Before the 19th century, medicine was shaped by bath therapies which are going back to the Indus Culture (2500-1000BC) and to Egyptians. Later Hippocrates of Cos (460-370BC) established medicine as a profession and hence he is considered as the father of Western Medicine. He was the first who stated that disease is the product of environmental factors, diet and living habits and not inflicted by gods[i],[ii] (Hippocrates; Hippocrates). Furthermore, he regarded the whole person and not only the diseased tissue.[iii]
In the Early Middle Ages the cloisters had hospitals where they applied herbs and healing plants. That medicine was based on the humoral pathology of Hippocrates and Galen. A very valuable relict of that time is the Lorscher Pharmacopeia (795) which is the oldest preserved book of monastic medicine in Germany. In recent years the nun and Saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) has become popular among feminist scholars. She collected plants from the Greek-Roman tradition combined it with folk medicine and holistic methods centred on the spiritual healing.
Only after 1348 medicine could be studied at the first medicinal faculty in Prague.
Phillipus, Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim better known as Paracelsus (1493 –1541) was a radical reformist, a unconventional thinker and a very productive scholarly writer of articles about medicine, nature philosophy, theology, alchemy, pharmacy, astrology and invisible part of nature (Gantenbein). He tried to heal on several levels, the local physical symptom, the whole entity of symptoms, the emotional part, the astrological part, by use of magic and faith. As this seemed often unacceptable he was often pushed out of the village and hence he was constantly moving. Nevertheless he is considered the father of toxicology and one well known citation is “The dose makes the poison” (Paracelsus).
[i] (Hippocrates, The sacred disease p.845): “But if these things, when administered in food, aggravate the disease, and a fit be cured by abstinence from them, then is God not the cause at all; nor will purifications be of any avail, but it is the food which is beneficial and prejudicial, and the influence of the divinity vanishes. Thus, then, they who attempt to cure these diseases in this way, appear to me neither to recon them sacred nor divine. For when they are removed by such purifications, and this method of cure, what is to prevent them from being brought upon men and induced by other devices similar to these? So that the cause is no longer divine, but human. For whoever is able, by purifications and conjurations, to drive away such an affection, will be able, by other practices, to excite it; and, according to this view, its divine nature is entirely done away with it.” (Hippocrates, The sacred disease)
[ii] (Hippocrates, The "Sacred" Disease - The Methods and Origin of Medicine - A Public Health Record p. 307) „But this so-called sacred disease arises from the same causes as any other – the food that enters and the excretions that leave the body, cold weather, the sun, changes of climate – and all these things are divine. There is no need to think that there is anything more sacred about this disease than any other; all are divine in origin, all can be treated by men. Each, of course, has its own peculiarities, but none is beyond human understanding, and all are capable of cure. “
[iii] (Langholf p. 53) “The symptoms described can all be observed directly through the senses, partly by the physician who feels the body temperature, inspects the vomit, palpates the stomach, examines the skin, the lips, the yes, and partly by the patient who feels rigor, headache, intestinal pain, heaviness and a disturbance of vision. There must have been a certain amount of questioning, and probably the physician was able to assess the patient’s subjective symptoms (e.g. intestinal pain) by secondary signs (e.g. reaction during palpations.) With regard to the aetiology of the “livid disease”, there is no speculation. What is significant is the observation of the restricted number of signs. ”