All through historical past, people have sought methods to ease many illnesses. Some lasted by means of millennia. Others fell into disuse. The traditional Greek civilization (c. 3,000 BCE-600 CE), practiced quite a lot of therapeutic strategies over centuries influenced by inhabitants development, commerce, and battle all through the Mediterranean area. Drugs in antiquity shifted and developed because of altering wants, medical developments, and the trade of cultural influences. By means of surviving paperwork, we are able to look at a number of the seemingly unusual and curious methods to heal in historic Greece.

Typically, medication in Greek antiquity was a mixture of making use of vitamin, habits, natural treatments, and surgical procedure. Relying on the information of the doctor, and ability, the result various drastically. Hippocrates (460-370 BCE), acknowledged for his influential work in medication and philosophy, outlined studying the artwork of drugs as that which “might be in comparison with the rising of crops.” He explains that “our pure aptitude is the soil; the instruction our lecturers give us within the seeds; our primary training is the planting of the seeds on the proper time; our place of examine is the vitamins obtained by the seedlings from the encircling air; [and] our exhausting work is the tending of the crops. Time ensures robust development” (McKeown, 2017, p. 20). Whereas his principle emphasised the significance of a very good trainer and a robust dedication to the sphere, there’s a lot proof to recommend that historic Greek medication additionally concerned non-medically outlined methods, together with superstitions, goals, and astrology. 

Trendy cultures might have loads of these seemingly unusual therapeutic strategies as considered by future generations. It’s tough to understand how these historic strategies resonated with the inhabitants at the moment and in the event that they had been efficient in any respect. However recognizing the creativity of those methods to heal actually offers us a contemporary perspective on the facility of human creativity and creativeness in devising health-promoting practices. Let’s discover a number of the medical curiosities of the traditional Greek civilization, starting with a contact of magic.

Superstitions, Incantations, and Sorcery

The magical realm of superstitions, incantations, and sorcery was a serious a part of historic Greek natural medication. Magic, which might be each an motion and a sense, may very well be sparked by an intention, a prayer, or a request for an lively affect outdoors human understanding. Those that labored immediately with herbs in historic Greece, notably the “root cutters” (ῥιζοτόμοι / rhizotomoi) and the “drug sellers” (φαρμακοπῶλαι / pharmakopolai), believed in a strong and unpredictable pressure governing nature. Each root cutters and drug sellers, who labored within the market, or agora, shared a popularity of being extremely educated about plant medication, whereas on the identical time considered as untrustworthy, unusual, and maybe even ridiculous, notably for a few of their strategies of harvesting and distribution. In his botanical textbook, Enquiry into Crops, Theophrastus (c. 370 – c. 287 BCE), writes that “a number of the issues that drug sellers and root cutters say are, I suppose, affordable sufficient, however typically they make such a track and dance with their exaggerated claims…It appears extremely far-fetched that, for instance, peonies ought to be dug up solely at evening, for concern that, if an individual is seen by a woodpecker whereas he’s gathering their flowers, he dangers going blind, whereas, if he’s seen by a woodpecker whereas he’s chopping the basis, he might endure a prolapsed anus” (1916/n.d., 9.8).

By means of the traditional medical lens outlined by docs reminiscent of Hippocrates and Theophrastus, the medicinal advantages of a plant actually couldn’t be affected by when or the way it was gathered. This superstition, nevertheless, was extensively believed amongst their counterparts and carefully tied to the magic that the plant supposedly held. Deciphering indicators of nature as divine messages certainly needed to be taken significantly. As whom might know what the gods had been making an attempt to inform them? Or what disasters may very well be prevented in the event that they took all the mandatory, though seemingly weird, precautions? Who would dare take such a danger?

Let’s additional discover using peony. Peony (Paeonia officinalis) was extensively used for medication and for magic. As medication, a decoction of the basis was used for inducing or regulating menstrual movement, easing infected kidneys and jaundice, soothing diarrhea, and serving to take away the afterbirth after supply (Dioscorides  et al., 2000). These well being advantages weren’t separated from its magical powers. Even centuries after Theophrastus shared his exasperation over the timing of the peony harvest, the doctor Nicander (197-180 BCE) wrote in his medical textual content Theriaka that “the spongy roots of fresh-dug peony…” might be included in a recipe as “a basic panacea” in opposition to all disasters (2nd century BCE/1953, p. 934-42). Even later, in De Materia Medica by Dioscorides (40-90 CE), peony was worn or carried on an individual, to be “good in opposition to poisons, bewitching, fears, and devils and their assaults,” and the place the plant grew on the mountain, particularly “the place there have been devils, it drove them away” (Dioscorides et al., 2000, p. 530). This mix of drugs and magic couldn’t simply be separated and was related to lots of the crops utilized to well being in Greek antiquity.

There are numerous different examples.

In accordance with Pliny (23-79 CE) in Pure Historical past, “they are saying that mint will remedy illnesses affecting the spleen, offered that the affected person tastes it within the backyard, straight from the plant with out plucking it, on 9 consecutive days. As he chews it, he ought to declare that it’s treating his spleen” (77/1952, p. 203).

Along with superstition and magic, incantations and sorcery had been additionally widespread practices. Verses sung in each private and non-private rituals had been inscribed on amulets to guard in opposition to evil and dangerous luck. A typical amulet inscription to assist support digestion was the Greek phrase “pesse,” which means “digest,” written thrice. Digestive illnesses had been a serious concern and “the insistence on illnesses originating within the stomach could also be partly as a result of frequency of meals poisoning and intestinal parasites” (Frankfurter, 2019, p. 442). Praying for good digestion meant praying for good well being.

Historical texts have additionally indicated the significance of incantations and prayers in making natural preparations. The thinker Plato (c. 427 BCE – c. 347 BCE) writes in his textual content Charmides, “so I informed him that the factor itself was a sure leaf, however there was a attraction to go along with the treatment; and if one uttered the attraction in the intervening time of its software, the treatment made one completely nicely; however with out the attraction there was no efficacy within the leaf” (5th century BCE/1955, 155e). Whereas he doesn’t specify the attraction to be uttered, there are examples of those incantations in different texts, together with within the Papyri Graecae Magicae, a set of papyri from Graeco-Roman Egypt (c. 100 BCE – c. 400 CE) a lot of which had been written in historic Greek. 

Maybe probably the most superstitious observe of all was the observe of spitting, which “protects us in opposition to magic spells and the dangerous penalties of assembly an individual who’s lame in the best foot. It’s customary to spit thrice to make sure the efficacy of any medication when it’s being administered” (McKeown, 2017, p. 220). Whether or not sorcery or foolishness, who might say now if this did, certainly, work hundreds of years in the past?

woman sleeping in bed

Therapeutic in Desires

Even professional docs say that we should always pay shut consideration to goals. -Aristotle On Prophecy by means of Sleep (463a)

Drugs in historic Greece was additionally influenced by the dream world. Therapeutic sanctuaries and shrines, notably in honor of Asclepius, had been positioned all through the traditional Greek empire, with greater than 700 websites recognized by archaeologists (McKeown, 2017). These therapeutic facilities attracted pilgrims looking for assist with quite a lot of illnesses and private issues. One of the crucial well-known therapeutic facilities of Asclepius was positioned at Epidaurus, within the Peloponnese of Greece, the place guests can nonetheless go to remnants of the sanctuary buildings. Generally known as the god of drugs, Asclepius delivered his therapeutic contact throughout sleep. In preparation, the affected person accomplished a purification course of, fasting someday and abstaining from wine, baths, and massages for 3 (Carod-Artal, 2013). The abaton was a particular space of sanctuary for his or her “dream incubation,” the place they might obtain directions and be cured throughout their sleep. 

Archeological stays of stelae, massive marble slabs, had been uncovered at Epidaurus and revealed historic Greek inscriptions detailing the therapy of the affected person throughout their go to (Błaśkiewicz, 2014). A few of these treatments included references to natural preparations; decoctions, ointments, and poultices, although none present particular particulars on the herbs used (Błaśkiewicz, 2014). That is unlucky for contemporary herbalists looking for to grasp the therapeutic practices of the traditional Greeks. However on condition that this was a sacred therapeutic house with direct non secular reference to Asclepius, these treatments ready by monks had been certainly a sacred and mysterious a part of the journey in direction of therapeutic. The sick who traveled from close to and much didn’t appear to doubt the god’s energy to remedy their ache. 

Asclepius was the son of Apollo, god of the solar and prophecy, and Coronis, a mortal girl. In paintings, he’s usually depicted holding a rod with a sacred snake coiled round it, representing knowledge and therapeutic. Asclepius had 5 daughters, every related to a unique component of well being: Hygieia, goddess of cleanliness; Iaso, goddess of restoration; Aceso, goddess of the therapeutic course of; Aegle, goddess of fine well being; and Panacea, goddess of common treatment. He and his daughters represented the complexity of drugs in historic Greece and the broad and intentional strategy of the traditional Greeks to realize and keep good well being.

Along with receiving sacred communication throughout sleep, the situations of the sanctuaries additionally inspired a reference to the divine self, the psyche, which “not solely is aware of the way to maintain bodily, psychological, emotional and non secular well-being, but additionally has a divine connection to the healer god inside” (Błaśkiewicz, 2014, p.56). The traditional Greeks understood the facility of the innermost self to contribute to 1’s personal therapeutic and the sanctuaries offered the situations to realize this inside work. It was this very mixture of working with the divine god and the divine self that the traditional Greeks believed true therapeutic comes from.

ancient book on a table

The Writing within the Stars

Astronomy doesn’t play a small position in medication, however a really massive position. -Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, Locations 2 (2.14, 16-18)

Historical Greeks additionally utilized which means to the celebs. Many historic authors wrote concerning the connection between astronomy and medication. Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100-178 CE), for instance, was a well-known mathematician, astrologer, and astronomer from historic Alexandria in Egypt throughout the time of the Roman Empire. He wrote in his textual content Tetrabiblos, which means “4 books,” concerning the affiliation between components of the physique and the celestial planets and stars. This fashionable textual content, written in historic Greek, unfold all through the Mediterranean area for hundreds of years after and included the next main associations (3.12.147):  

Planet / Star Physique Half / Sense
Solar sense of sight, mind, coronary heart, and all physique components on the best aspect
Moon sense of style, abdomen, womb, and all of the physique components on the left aspect
Saturn proper ear, spleen, bladder, phlegm, and bones
Jupiter sense of contact, lungs, arteries, semen
Mars left ear, kidneys, veins, genitals
Venus sense of odor, liver, and muscle
Mercury sense of speech, cause, tongue, bile, and buttocks

Ptolemy’s textual content included detailed analyses and descriptions of astral forces, together with the Zodiac indicators, with chapters entitled “Of the Energy of the Planets,” “Of Bodily Accidents and Ailments,” “Of the High quality of the Soul,” and “Of the High quality of Dying” (2nd century/1940). His concepts had been thought-about respectable science nicely up till the Renaissance interval, centuries after his dying. 

Earlier in antiquity, the unknown creator of Routine (c. 400 BCE), a textual content a part of the Hippocratic Corpus, offered particulars concerning the connection of the physique with astral cycles. People, they wrote, had been “made in imitation of the entire” and due to this fact, well being was associated to the “correspondence between the construction of the microcosm and the macrocosm” (Jouanna, 2012, p. 195 and p. 222). The traditional Greek thinker Plato (428-348 BCE) held comparable theories in his textual content Timaeus, written c. 360 BCE, by which he describes how the soul travels in round rotations equally to the rotation of the planets. He additional connects these rotations with the 4 humours of historic Greek medication. Thus, illnesses of the soul may very well be attributed to an unhealthy state of the physique by which the humours within the physique had been imbalanced and never in movement. Plato additional argues that working towards unhealthy habits, and accumulating these humoral fluids within the physique, might result in in poor health results on one’s intelligence. 

Whereas not a lot stays of those theories in fashionable natural practices, the celestial affect of the traditional Greeks stays intact in lots of the evening sky constellations, perpetually rotating.

golden flute lying on an open book

Different Curious Methods to Heal

Maybe one of many extra sudden—and curious—strategies of therapeutic in historic Greece was the incorporation of music. Music remedy was usually utilized to assist ease each bodily and psychological ache. Soothing melodies of the flute, for instance, had been utilized to remedy viper bites or “when ache within the hips is especially extreme” (Gellius, 2nd century/1927, 13.3). Whereas certainly not a cure-all, the tactic of music remedy advised that the human thoughts and the human physique had been intimately interconnected, and due to this fact there was an intimate hyperlink between bodily and psychological sicknesses and their treatments.

Maybe it isn’t shocking that Apollo was the traditional god of each music and therapeutic. He was one of many twelve Olympians ruling from Mount Olympus in central Greece and along with music and well being, he was additionally the god of prophecy, archery, the solar, and the humanities. Music was sung in historic Greece throughout celebrations of harvest and well being, in rituals for defense in opposition to illness, and in gratitude for the passing of misfortunes. Honoring the god for his divine hand in human well being with the melodic sounds of historic devices and voices was a observe that would certainly assist the therapeutic of any ailment.

In Closing,

The traditional Greeks relied on quite a lot of therapeutic strategies to ease their ache and struggling on the earth. Whereas none of those treatments might be cure-alls in modern-day use, they do supply a glimpse into how historic people strove for good well being and luck. The mixture of magical superstitions, dreamworld cures, astronomy, and music in historic medication and herbalism maybe might help fashionable herbalists and holistic practitioners take into account the probabilities of well being and therapeutic in a world that continues to rotate across the identical aspirations.

For extra on the historical past and mythology of herbs, see:
The History, Mythology, and Offerings of Hawthorn

Strange Ways to Heal: Medical Curiosities of Ancient Greece | Herbal Academy | Through surviving ancient written documents, we can examine some of the seemingly strange ways humans sought to heal in ancient Greece.

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Błaśkiewicz, M. (2014). Therapeutic goals at Epidaurus: Evaluation and interpretation of the Epidaurian iamata. Miscellanea Anthropologica et Sociologica 15 (4): 54–69.

Dioscorides, P., Osbaldeston, T. A., & Wooden, R. P. (2000). De materia medica: Being an natural with many different medicinal supplies: written in Greek within the first century of the widespread period: a brand new listed model in fashionable English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS.

Gellius, C. (1927). Attic nights. (J. Rolfe, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. (Authentic work revealed 2nd century). 

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Nicander of Colophon. (1953). Theriaka. (A. Gow & A. Scholfield, Trans.). (Authentic work revealed 2nd century BCE). Retrieved from 

Plato. (1955). Plato in twelve volumes. (W.R.M. Lamb, Trans.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Press. (Authentic work revealed 5th century BCE). Retrieved from

Pliny the Elder. (1950). Pure historical past. (H. Rackham, W.H.S. Jones, and D. Eichholz, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard College Press. (Authentic work revealed 77 CE). 

Ptolemy, C. (1940). Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Press. (Authentic work revealed 2nd century CE).

Scarborough, J. (1991). The pharmacology of sacred crops, herbs, and roots. In C. Faraone & D. Obbink (Eds.). Magika Hiera: Historical Greek magic & faith. (pp. 138-171). New York: Oxford College Press.

Theophrastus. (1916). Enquiry into plants (Vol. I, books 1-5). (Hort, A.F., Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard College Press. (Authentic work revealed n.d.). 

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