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Theories of Illness and Medicine in Ancient History

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Ideas as about illness and possible causes and cures Prehistoric Times We do not know what prehistoric people thought about causes of and cures for illness so we look at the Australian Aborigines who lived as hunter-gatherers until quite recently. Prehistoric people may have had different ideas. We just cannot be certain. Aborigines thought that illness was caused either by an evil spirit entering the body or by the person's own spirit being taken out of the body. An enemy could do either of these by pointing a bone at another person and saying a special chant or spell. Charms could be worn to keep evil spirits away. A Medicine Man could be brought in to deal with evil spirits possessing the ill person. Herbs and plants which could deal with everyday problems such as stomach upsets, burns and sprains were discovered and knowledge was passed down to others by word of mouth. Ancient Egypt Like most early people they thought that disease was caused by gods and spirits. ...read more.


Hippocrates and his followers put forward the Four Humour Theory. They noticed that whenever some one was ill one or more of four liquids (or humours) was present. (BLOOD, PHLEGM, YELLOW BILE AND BLACK BILE) They were confusing EFFECTS of the illness with the CAUSES of it. Treatments were developed to remove the extra amount of humour or to encourage more of it to be produced. Hippocrates also developed the writing down of symptoms. This was called clinical observation and doctors could tell the patients how the disease would develop and give medicines to treat each stage. They also thought that exercise and diet could help to maintain a balance of humours and body temperature e.g. eating a lot and drinking little in winter and eating less and drinking a lot in summer. Ancient Rome The Romans also thought that gods could cause and cure illness. They accepted Greek ideas and believed in building temples to Asceplios. ...read more.


Anyone who suggested new ideas would be attacked by the Church and possibly burned as a heretic. The Great Plague which first reached Europe in 1347 inspired a number of theories about its cause e.g. a punishment from God, bad smells, the close position of the three great planets, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Herbs and flowers were carried to try to remove the bad smells. Renaisance times Many of the old ideas continued e.g. disease being a punishment from God, bad smells spreading disease, the value of herbs, the position of the moon, stars and planets affecting health and the four humour theory. Printing helped to spread new ideas very quickly. Vesalius pointed out the mistakes that Galen had made. Pare suggested using cool lotions on wounds instead of boiling oil and he sewed up cut blood vessels after amputations but infection still killed many of his patients. The one important breakthrough was Harvey's discovery of how the blood circulated. Knowledge of this rarely improved treatments and an incorrect belief in the value of bleeding patients still continued. ...read more.

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