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Hippocrates of Kos
A conventionalized image in a Roman "portrait" bust (19th-century engraving)
Born c. 460 BC
Died c. 370 BC
(aged approximately 90)
Larissa, Ancient Greece
Occupation Physician
Era Classical Greece

Hippocrates of Kos ( Greek: Ἱπποκράτης ὁ Κῷος, translit. Hippokrátēs ho Kôios; c. 460 – c. 370 BC), also known as Hippocrates II, was a Greek physician who is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is traditionally called the "Father of Medicine".

He was the first person to write that people got sick for scientific reasons. People used to believe disease was caused by angry (mad) gods.

Hippocrates wrote about treating sick people. His writings are still important to doctors today. He said many ideas that doctors still study. An idea he wrote about is "patient confidentiality". This means that doctors cannot tell anyone else what their patients tell them. Another idea is that the doctor cannot do anything to kill a patient. These kinds of ideas are part of medical ethics. Hippocrates is credited with coining the Hippocratic Oath, which is still in use today.


Hippocrate refusant les présents d'Artaxerxès (original)
Illustration of the story of Hippocrates refusing the presents of the Achaemenid Emperor Artaxerxes, who was asking for his services. Painted by Girodet, 1792.

Historians agree that Hippocrates was born around the year 460 BC on the Greek island of Kos; other biographical information, however, is likely to be untrue.

Hippocrates' father was Heraclides, a physician, and his mother was Praxitela, daughter of Tizane. The two sons of Hippocrates, Thessalus and Draco, and his son-in-law, Polybus, were his students. Thessalus and Draco each had a son named Hippocrates (Hippocrates III and IV).

Hippocrates learned medicine from his father and grandfather (Hippocrates I). Hippocrates was probably trained at the asklepieion of Kos, and took lessons from the Thracian physician Herodicus of Selymbria. Hippocrates taught and practiced medicine throughout his life, traveling at least as far as Thessaly, Thrace, and the Sea of Marmara.

Several different accounts of his death exist. He died, probably in Larissa, at the age of 83, 85 or 90, though some say he lived to be well over 100.

Hippocratic theory

The Hippocratic school of medicine revolutionized ancient Greek medicine.

Hippocrates is credited as the first person to believe that diseases were caused naturally, not because of superstition and gods. He separated the discipline of medicine from religion. He believed that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits.

Hippocrates taught to focus on prognosis, not diagnosis, and on clinical observation and patient care.


Kos Asklepeion
Asklepieion on Kos

An important concept in Hippocratic medicine was that of a crisis - a point in at which either the illness would begin to triumph, or the patient would start to recover. Hippocrates believed that crises occured on critical days, which were supposed to be a fixed time after the disease had begun. If a crisis occurred on a day far from a critical day, a relapse might be expected.

Treatment of diseases

Hippocrates believed in "the healing power of nature" and was convinced that the body has the power to heal itself. Hippocratic therapy focused on simply easing this natural process. In general, the Hippocratic medicine was very kind to the patient; treatment was gentle, keeping the patient clean and sterile was most important. Soothing balms were sometimes employed.

Hippocrates did not favour using medicine out of fear that it might be wrongly chosen. Some of the treatments he prescribed were fasting and drinking a mix of honey and vinegar. Hippocrates once said that "to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness". This passive approach was very successful in treating relatively simple ailments such as broken bones. However, drugs were used on certain occasions.

In Hippocrates' time it was thought that fever was a disease of itself. Hippocrates treated patients with fever by starving them out, believing that 'starving' the fever was a way to neutralize the disease. He may have been the originator of the idea "Feed a cold, starve a fever".


Ancientgreek surgical
A number of ancient Greek surgical tools. On the left is a trephine; on the right, a set of scalpels. Hippocratic medicine made good use of these tools.

Hippocrates emphasized the importance of discipline and professionalism among physicians. His work On the Physician recommends that physicians always be well-kempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious. The Hippocratic physician paid careful attention to all aspects of his practice: he followed detailed specifications for, "lighting, personnel, instruments, positioning of the patient, and techniques of bandaging and splinting" in the ancient operating room. He even kept his fingernails to a precise length.

The Hippocratic School dictate that physicians record their findings and their medicinal methods in a very clear and objective manner, so that these records may be passed down and employed by other physicians. Hippocrates made careful, regular note of many symptoms including complexion, pulse, fever, pains, movement, and excretions. He is said to have measured a patient's pulse when taking a case history to discover whether the patient was lying. Hippocrates extended clinical observations into family history and environment. "To him medicine owes the art of clinical inspection and observation."

Direct contributions to medicine

Clubbing of fingers in a patient with Eisenmenger's syndrome; first described by Hippocrates, clubbing is also known as "Hippocratic fingers".

Hippocrates and his followers were first to describe many diseases and medical conditions. He is given credit for the first description of clubbing of the fingers, an important diagnostic sign in chronic lung disease, lung cancer and cyanotic heart disease. For this reason, clubbed fingers are sometimes referred to as "Hippocratic fingers". Hippocrates was also the first physician to describe Hippocratic face in Prognosis.

Hippocrates began to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic, and use terms such as, "exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and convalescence." His teachings remain relevant to present-day students of pulmonary medicine and surgery. Hippocrates was the first documented chest surgeon and his findings and techniques, while crude, such as the use of lead pipes to drain chest wall abscess, are still valid.

Hippocrates often used lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise to treat diseases such as diabetes, what is today called lifestyle medicine.

Hippocratic Corpus

A 12th-century Byzantine manuscript of the Oath in the form of a cross

The Hippocratic Corpus (Latin: Corpus Hippocraticum) is a collection of around seventy medical works collected in Alexandrian Greece. It is written in Ionic Greek. Because of the variety of subjects, writing styles and apparent date of construction, the Hippocratic Corpus could not have been written by one person. Hippocrates might have written only a few of them. The volumes were probably produced by his students and followers.

The Hippocratic Corpus contains textbooks, lectures, research, notes and philosophical essays on various subjects in medicine. These works were written for different audiences, both specialists and laymen.

Engraving; bust of Hippocrates; by Paul Wellcome L0019959
Engraving: bust of Hippocrates by Paulus Pontius after Peter Paul Rubens, 1638

Hippocratic Oath

Mural painting showing Galen and Hippocrates. 12th century; Anagni, Italy

The Hippocratic Oath is a promise or oath doctors say. This means they say they will do what is said in the Hippocratic Oath.

Most medical schools today use a new version. This means that some things are changed. But the important ideas are the same. This is an example of a modern Hippocratic Oath.

This is used today at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

I do solemnly swear by all I hold most sacred:

  • that I will be loyal to the profession of medicine and just to its members
  • that I will lead my life and practice my art with virtue and honor
  • that into whatsoever home I shall enter it shall be for the good of the sick and the well by the utmost of my power and that I will hold myself aloof from wrong and from corruption and from the tempting of others to vice
  • that I will exercise my art solely for the benefit of my patients, the relief of suffering, the prevention of disease and promotion of health, and I will give no drug and perform no act for an immoral purpose
  • that in the treatment of the sick, I will consider their well-being to be of a greater importance than their ability to compensate my services
  • that what I may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside the treatment in regard to the lives of persons which is not fitting to be spoken, I will keep inviolably secret
  • that I will commit myself to a lifetime of continued learning of the art and science of medicine
  • these things I do promise and in proportion as I am faithful to this oath, may happiness and good repute be ever mine, but should I trespass and violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot.

Interesting facts about Hippocrates

Hippocrates sculpture in front of Mayne Medical School, Brisbane, 2021
Statue of Hippocrates in front of the Mayne Medical School in Brisbane
  • Two popular sayings ("Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food" and "Walking is man's best medicine") are often wrongly attributed to Hippocrates, but their exact origins are unknown.
  • The Hippocratic Oath, a summary of the ethics of medical practice, was attributed to Hippocrates in antiquity. People now think that Hippocrates did not write it.
  • Hippocrates is believed to be the descendant of Heracles.
  • Hippocrates is oftern portrayed as wearing a large beard, like many physicians of his time.
  • Very little is known about what Hippocrates actually thought, wrote, and did.
  • A lunar crater has been named Hippocrates.
  • The Hippocratic Museum, a museum on the Greek island of Kos is dedicated to him.
  • The Hippocrates Project is a program of the New York University Medical Center to enhance education through use of technology.


Some clinical symptoms and signs have been named after Hippocrates as he is believed to be the first person to describe them:

  • Hippocratic face;
  • Hippocratic fingers; or clubbing, a deformity of the fingers and fingernails;
  • Hippocratic bench (a device which uses tension to aid in setting bones);
  • Hippocratic cap-shaped bandage;
  • the Hippocratic Smile, a sustained spasming of the face muscles;
  • the most severe form of hair loss and baldness is called the Hippocratic form.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Hipócrates para niños

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