The Invention of Medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates by Robin Lane Fox

naiapard's review

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Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I have never EVER been so excited about a non-fiction book. I am myself incredulous at how much I have loved this book.

The writing, omg! I can barely contain my delight.

The author is not being ominous. He dosen`t derail from the matter at hand, he goes straight to the point. More than that, every statement made is accompanied by plenty examples!

But, I am getting way ahead of myself.

So, this is a book that talks mainly about the Ancient Greeks. They were among the first to have something that would translate in modern terms as “doctors” and “medicines”. That is not to say that there weren`t healers outside of ancient Greece`s aria. There were healers in Babylon and also in Egipt, but they did not leave behind a treatise, nor a corpus of written testimonials from doctors or patiences.

The Greeks let us what was to be called the Hippocratic Corpus. I would just love to give you some quotes, but as I understood, that is not really allowed as the book is not yet published.

But, God!

It is a really entertaining reading. The Greeks did not have the terminology that we have nowadays to name causes. For example, they did not see the pulse as being of any importance when consulting a patient. However, they followed patterns in things like urine`s color or dreams or fits of anger or mumblings.

They observed things happening in their society and they tried to observe their manifestation. It is just fascinating to follow how they described malaria or mumps.

The doctors were exclusively male. There comes an entire game when you read what they thought about the female organism. What produced the period or what was the connection between the breast milk and the menstrual blood.

Or you`ll find about exhibitionists and Homer`s knowledge in medical practice.
You have to give it a shot. It is not a try-harder book.

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mark_lm's review against another edition

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The Hippocratic literary corpus comprises many volumes that modern analysis shows, like other ancient texts, were written over many years and by different authors. The name Hippocrates does not appear anywhere in these writings, but over the centuries they have been attributed to a great physician with that name. Robin Lane Fox’s fascinating investigation of Epidemics volumes 1 and 3 from this corpus reveals evidence that they were written by a single revolutionary physician presenting 42 case studies from a few years spent on the north Agean island of Thasos about 470 BCE. He proposes that the author was Hippocrates himself.

RLF discusses the cases in detail extracting from them and from his formidable knowledge of the ancient world multiple clues to support his theory. The cases include the first description of a patient with melancholia; no treatments are described; the word diagnosis is not used (RLF reminds us of the importance of prognosis in the ancient world [has this changed?]); the great principle ‘first do no harm’ is mentioned; and the gods are not mentioned.

Along the way there are many interesting big and small facts including a discussion of the Oath of Hippocrates and a discussion of modern attempts to retrospectively diagnose these patients. Diseases whose identities seem likely include cirrhosis or hepatoma, malaria, mumps, tuberculosis, and possible puerperal fever. Others that are more speculative are Weil’s disease, Behcet’s syndrome, diptheria, erysipelas, typhus, and typhoid fever.

Lastly, I was pleased to hear that one of the later texts advises that a doctor should be of good color with a nice fleshiness.

ladyvictoriadiana's review against another edition

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informative reflective fast-paced


districtreads's review

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Extremely dry, although interesting at points. I would have appreciated more anecdotal storytelling - but it is likely meant to not be that kind of book. That said, it's definitely a resource, brings some unique perspective to the Greek philosophers and early medicine, which I found interesting.

arevikheboyan's review

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A brilliant work of presenting the invention and development of medicine as a scientific filed and all the external and history/era specific stimuli, ideas, people who affected the development of ideas of healing, intervention, systematic understanding of the body and all organ-systems.
A fascinating read, highly recommended to students of all-natural sciences, as well as any person who wants to learn more on the natural development of ideas into schools and paradigms/

tlambe87's review

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Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this!

This was terrific! I learned so much. The author was new to me. The writing was so good. This was a very engaging read. (Maybe not for the faint of heart though...). This was well done. Highly recommended. I think everyone should read this - you will look at your doctors differently! There are so many wrong assumptions made about the history of medicine. This work will go a long way towards correcting this!

firolimn's review

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Not too lengthy, it cleared up a few misconceptions I had about Hippocrates and early medicine generally. It discusses the broad change from divine oriented medical intervention to a human/nature centered analysis. Lane Fox discusses the problems with dating various items in the Hippocratic corpus with depth, exhausting depth. For me the discussion of when each work ought be dated was overly lengthy. For a reader more interested in the practice of dating or a reader concerned with a definitive dating of the texts in question this would be an upside.

christinecc's review against another edition

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informative slow-paced


 Robin Lane Fox's "The Invention of Medicine" is a thorough review of Ancient Greek views on medicine. The book is approachable if a little dense. Assuming you have even a passing interest in how our present-day thoughts on infections and cures differ from those of people far away in time, this is a good study to pick up. I particularly enjoyed the parts discussing Homer's detailed descriptions of injuries and anatomy in "The Iliad."

Recommended if you want to learn more about the Ancient world from the perspective of its medical beliefs and practices. Some interest in Ancient Greece might be necessary.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for granting me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.