Only skin deep: observations and dissections in ancient medicine
University of Exeter
The knowledge of anatomy is one of the main differences between the content of the medical texts of the physician Galen in the second century AD and the medical texts of the Hippocratic physicians of the fifth century BC. Galen was able to draw upon the extensive experience of a range of doctors who wrote about anatomy in the Hellenistic period, as well as his own systematic dissections of animals. Galen states that true knowledge of medicine can only be obtained through demonstrations, using a combination of reasoning based on sound logical argument and good observations from dissections. However, there is evidence for the development of knowledge of the way the human body works by the Hippocratic doctors in the fifth century BC, before the major development of anatomical theories in the Hellenistic period. This paper will present some of the ways that the Hippocratic doctors attempted to understand the human body by observations using all the senses. This will then be compared to Galen’s later theories and observations in order to investigate which observable factors are important for the ancient doctors to support their theories of health and disease. In this way the boundary is the skin of the human body. Therefore, the development of medical theories to explain what goes on inside the body is related to whether the ancient physicians based their observations solely on what they could sense outside the body or by further knowledge from dissections.
PowerPoint presentation for a paper presented at the 2014 Humanities PGR conference at the University of Exeter.