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The Physicians of Athens

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Page 6

The Skill of Greek Physicians

 

    Menon's skill as a physician and surgeon is considerable. True, he has only a very insufficient conception of anatomy. His theoretical knowledge is warped, but he is a shrewd judge of human nature and his practical knowledge is not contemptible. In his private pharmacy his assistants have compounded a great quantity of drugs which he knows how to administer with much discernment. He has had considerable experience in dealing with wounds and sprains, such as are common in the wars or in the athletic games. He understands that Dame Nature is a great healer, who is to be assisted rather than coerced; and he dislikes resorting to violent remedies, such as bleedings and strong emetics. Ordinary fevers and the like he can attack with success. He has no modern anæsthetics or opium, but has a very insufficient substitute in mandragora. He can treat simple diseases of the eye; and he knows how to put gold filling into teeth. His surgical instruments, however, are altogether too primitive. He is personally cleanly; but he has not the least idea of antiseptics; the result is that obscure internal diseases, calling for grave operations, are likely to baffle him. He will refuse to operate, or if he does operate the chances are against the patient.[8] In other words, his medical skill is far in advance of his surgery.

    Menon naturally busies himself among the best families of Athens, and commands a very good income. He counts it part of his equipment to be able to persuade his patients, by all the rules of logic and rhetoric, to submit to disagreeable treatment; and for that end has taken lessons in informal oratory from Isocrates or one of his associates. Some of Menon's competitors (feeling themselves less eloquent) have actually a paid rhetorician whom they can take to the bedside of a stubborn invalid, to induce him by irrefutable arguments to endure an amputation.[9]

    No such honor of course is paid to the intellects of the poorer fry, who swarm in at Menon's surgery. Those who cannot pay to have him bandage them himself, perforce put up with the secondary skill and wisdom of the "disciples." The drug-mixing slaves are expected to salve and physic the patients of their own class; but there seems to be a law against allowing them to attempt the treatment of free-born men.

 

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Reference address : https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/old-athens-physicians.asp?pg=6