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Hippocrates (c. 460 - c. 370 BCE)

Hippocrates was a Greek philosopher and physician who has been called ‘the father of medicine’. He and his followers dismissed the idea that illness was simply caused or cured by superstitions, spirits or gods. Instead, he argued for a rational approach to medical treatment based on close observation of the individual patient. However, so little is known about the man himself that some scholars have questioned whether he was a real person at all.

In Hippocratic medicine, effective treatment relied on considering the patient as a whole. Diet, sleep, work and exercise were all seen as important factors that could play a role in producing - and reversing - the imbalance in humours that was believed to result in illness. Diseases were allowed to run their natural course with treatment restricted mainly to the careful use of specific herbal medicines. Surgery was very much seen as a last resort. Hippocrates is believed to have founded a medical school on Kos - the island of his birth - where his students helped to spread his ideas. A collection of ancient written works associated with Hippocrates and his teachings, known as ‘The Hippocratic Corpus’, was a huge influence on the development of medicine in the centuries that followed. The Hippocratic oath was most probably compiled by a number of authors, but echoes elements of his philosophy and has an enduring legacy as the ethical framework for the medical profession.


J Chadwick and W N Mann, The Medical Works of Hippocrates. A New Translation (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific, 1950)

J Jouanna, Hippocrates (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)