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Ocr Medicine Through Time - Ancient Greeks-Humors Theory

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#1 Saraa

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 09:21 PM

I need help joining the Humour to the treatment which was used to heal it

I know Bleeding was used to treat unbalanced Blood.

However I am unclear as to which of the following belong to each other

Yellow Bile
Black Bile

Purging the bowels

and also neither my revision guide or textbook state the treatment for Phlegm?

Any help or links would be very much appreciated :)
Thank you x

#2 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 11:21 PM

You will not be tested on this in your exam, Saraa.

Nevertheless, I will explain.
The Greeks had no scientific knowledge - their religion was RATIONAL (ie common sense thinking-things-through)

They liked to connect eveything together - as in this diagram:
Posted Image

If you look at it, you can see how it connects the four humours to the four elements, and to their nature (hot or cold, wet or dry) ... and also to a person's nature (melancholic, for example, comes from the Latin word for 'black', and we still talk of people being in a 'dark' mood).
This diagram does not show the seasons of the year, but I bet you could put them on the document at the correct corners fairly easily.

Illnesses, the Greeks believed, occurred when the humours got out of balance.

An excess of blood might lead to a florid skin, or a fever (we know today that high blood pressure DOES cause illness) and would cause the person to be over-passionate or over-optimistic ('sanguine' comes from the latin word for blood), and so it would be treated by bleeding or leeches.

An excess of yellow bile would cause vomiting (puke is yellow) and would lead the patients to be angry (the word for anger 'choleric' comes from the Greek word for bile, and we still say that someone is bilious), so it would be treated with an emetic to make them vomit.

An excess of black bile would be characterised by stomach upset and diarrhoea - so the doctor would purge him.

And of course, an excess of phlegm would cause a cold or flu, and the doctor would prescribe an expectorant (which we still do, of course).

Just before I finish, look again at the chart, and at the characteristics of the elements/humours.
Can you see that Black bile is 'cold and dry', phlegm is 'cold and wet' etc.

the Greeks decided that was HOW you got got an excess of a humour - what caused it. If you had gone out in winter in the rain and got too cold and wet, you would get an excess of phlegm, and catch a cold.
So what is the cure - to keep the patient hot and dry! (We still say much the same for a cold today!)

And if you;d gone out in the sun too long in summer, and got too hot and dry, and got an excess of yellow bile, and had caught sunstroke - surely the best treatment is to keep the patient wet and cool (which indeed it is).

This explains why Hippocratic medicine involved the 'use of opposites'.

#3 Saraa

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 11:42 PM

Thank you this helped alot :)

However in regards to your last statement, was it not Galen who come up with the Theory of Opposites?

#4 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 10:42 AM

Thank you this helped alot :)

However in regards to your last statement, was it not Galen who come up with the Theory of Opposites?

Galen certainly used the Theory of Opposites, but he adopted it from the Greek Hippocratic methods. He may have invented the phrase, because I have not found the phrase in any of the Hippocratic writings, but he certainly did not invent the idea:

e.g. Hippocrates's book On Ancient Medicine, Ch.13:

"For if hot, or cold, or moist, or dry, be that which proves injurious to man ... the person who would treat him properly must apply cold to the hot, hot to the cold, moist to the dry, and dry to the moist..."

On this VERY important passage in the book On the Sacred Disease:

"And the disease called the Sacred arises from causes as the others, namely, those things which enter and quit the body, such as cold, the sun, and the winds, which are ever changing and are never at rest. And these things are divine, so that there is no necessity for making a distinction, and holding this disease to be more divine than the others, but all are divine, and all human. And each has its own peculiar nature and power, and none is of an ambiguous nature, or irremediable. And the most of them are curable by the same means as those by which any other thing is food to one, and injurious to another. Thus, then, the physician should understand and distinguish the season of each, so that at one time he may attend to the nourishment and increase, and at another to abstraction and diminution. And in this disease as in all others, he must strive not to feed the disease, but endeavor to wear it out by administering whatever is most opposed to each disease, and not that which favors and is allied to it. For by that which is allied to it, it gains vigor and increase, but it wears out and disappears under the use of that which is opposed to it. But whoever is acquainted with such a change in men, and can render a man humid and dry, hot and cold by regimen, could also cure this disease, if he recognizes the proper season for administering his remedies, without minding purifications, spells, and all other illiberal practices of a like kind."

This last passage is critical, because it shows Hippocrates saying that no disease is caused by God, and asserting that everything is curable by natural (rational) means, and also (at the end) saying that the best way to do this is a 'regimen' (programme of health) - so here you have a quote which illustrates the three key features of Greek medicine in one paragraph!

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