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Hippocrates was a Greek physician. He is considered as one of the greatest figures in the history of medicine and referred to as the 'Father of Western Medicine'. This biography profiles his childhood, life, works, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

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Famous as
Physician
Nationality
Born
460 BC
Died At Age
90
Born in
Kos, Ancient Greece
Died on
370 BC
place of death
Larissa, Ancient Greece
father
Heraclides
mother
Praxitela
children
Thessalus, Draco
Hippocrates
By J.G de Lint (1867-1936), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hippocrates was a Greek physician of the Classical Greece age. He is considered as one of the greatest figures in the history of medicine. As the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine, he is referred to as the 'Father of Western Medicine'. Hippocratic School of Medicine radically changed the system of medicine in ancient Greece. It separated medicine from traditional disciplines such as theurgy and philosophy and established it as a professional discipline. The very commonly known ‘Hippocratic Oath’ has been derived from and credited to the first physician of human history – Hippocrates. Other achievements and noteworthy feats of this great physician include ‘The Hippocratic Corpus’, which is a collection of ancient Greek medical works closely related and associated with Hippocrates and his teachings. The credit for the systematic study of clinical medicine goes to him as he summed up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribed standard practices for physicians through his Hippocratic Corpus and other works.

Childhood & Early Life
  • Going by historians, Hippocrates was born around 460 BC in Cos, an island in Greece. There is, however, confusion regarding the dates and works surrounding him.
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  • There are many sources of information about Hippocrates but Soranus of Ephesus, who was Hippocrates' first biographer, is the main source of most of the personal information about him. Other sources of information on Hippocrates are the Suda of the tenth century and the works of John Tzetzes. Contemporaries like Plato and Aristotle also mention about him in their works.
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  • Historians believe that he was an avid traveler and moved a lot in Asia Minor and Greece teaching his pupils and practicing his art. It is also presumed that he taught at the medical school at Cos frequently.
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  • According to Sonarus of Ephesus, Hippocrates was the son of Heraclides, who was a physician and his mother Praxitela was the daughter of Tizane.
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  • Hippocrates had two sons named Draco and Thessalus who were his students. Polybus, his son-in-law, was also his student. According to Galen, a later physician, Polybus became Hippocrates true successor whereas his sons Draco and Thessalus had a son each who were named after Hippocrates.
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  • Sonarus also revealed in his biography of Hippocrates that he acquired knowledge of medicine from his grandfather and father. He gained knowledge about other subjects from Gorgias ad Democritus.
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  • It is presumed that he received his training at the asklepieion of Kos, and he also took lessons from the Thracian physician Herodicus of Selymbria. Throughout his life he practiced and taught medicine and travelled to places as far as Thrace, Sea of Marmara and Thessaly.
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Hippocratic Theory
  • Hippocrates was probably the first person to believe that diseases are common and natural occurrences and not due to some external supernatural forces like gods. He stated that diseases were created by environmental factors, diet, and living habits.
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  • Pythagoras and his disciples had credited Hippocrates for associating philosophy and medicine.
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  • The Hippocratic School of medicine or Koan school applied general diagnoses and passive treatments to achieve success. This system focused on patient care and prognosis and not diagnosis.
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  • Even though it achieved considerable success in treating diseases, Hippocratic system of medicine and its philosophy are different than that of modern medicine.
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  • Crisis: Crisis was an important point in Hippocratic medicine. It is a point in the advancement of disease where either the patient would recover with the help of natural processes or the patient would succumb to death. Crisis also might be followed by a relapse. It was also highlighted that crisis occurred on critical days.
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  • Hippocratic medicine adopted a very passive and humble approach and the therapeutic approach was also based on "the healing power of nature". His approach of healing focused on simple and natural processes that involved gentle treatment and emphasis was laid on keeping the patient clean and sterilized.
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  • Hippocrates was hesitant in using specialized treatment and drugs and instead followed a generalized therapy that required generalized treatment. The generalized treatment that he used included fasting and laid emphasis on the consumption of apple cider vinegar. He also quoted that "to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness." Yet, he used potent drugs in extreme illness. His approach proved successful especially in treating simple ailments.
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  • Professionalism: Hippocratic system of medicine was known for its strict professionalism, practice and discipline. “On The Physician” is one of his works in which he has highlighted and recommended that physicians should be calm, patient, honest, well-kept and understanding. They need to closely observe and practice all aspects of their profession. It was important for them to have apt understanding of the instruments, lightning, patient positioning, bandaging, splinting etc.
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  • Great emphasis was laid on clinical doctrines of documentation and observation in his system of medicine. The doctrines state that physicians should always jot down and keep a record of their findings. This was practiced so that new physicians could also benefit from them and learn. He even extended the clinical observation to the patient’s family history and his environment. He has therefore been given the title of the “Father of Medicine”.
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Contribution to Medicine
  • The description of many medical conditions and diseases has been attributed to Hippocrates and his disciples. He has been credited with the description of clubbing of fingers which is also known as “Hippocratic fingers”. This is an important sign that helps in diagnosing cyanotic heart disease and lung cancer.
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  • He made different categories of illness namely epidemic, endemic, chronic and acute. Relapse, peak, crisis, resolution, paroxysm, exacerbation etc were terms that he used while describing illness. The relevancy of his teachings still holds prominence for students of surgery and pulmonary medicine. He had been the first documented “chest surgeon” and the techniques that he used and his findings are still practiced.
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  • Hippocratic school of medicine describes aliments relating to human rectum and the relevant treatments. “Hippocratic Corpus” also mentions about excision and cautery. He also mentioned some fundamental concepts about proctoscopy in the corpus which are still in practice. There are references pertaining to endoscopy as well. In order to treat diabetes he prescribed exercises and diet which has been termed as lifestyle medicine in modern time.
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Hippocratic Corpus & Hippocratic Oath
  • Written in Ionic Greek, the Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of roughly seventy works. It is, however, a subject of debate and speculation whether Hippocrates was the actual author as there is not much evidence to prove if he is the writer of all these books but. It has been attributed to Hippocrates as the teachings described follow his principles.
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  • This corpus consists of philosophical essays, research, notes, textbooks etc on a number of subjects pertaining to medicine. The subjects that have been written cater to the needs of different readers. Few of them have been written for professional physicians while some are for layman and a few are for the pharmacists.
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  • Notable among the treatises of the ‘Hippocratic Corpus’ are The Hippocratic Oath; Aphorisms; On Airs, Waters and Places; The Book of Prognostics; Instruments of Reduction; On Regimen in Acute Diseases; On The Sacred Disease; etc.
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  • Hippocratic Oath: This is a document that highlights morals and medical practice ethics. The credit for the same goes to Hippocrates but it is believed to have been written after his death. This is considered to be the most sought after document of the Hippocratic Corpus. Though the oath is not applied in its original form in modern time, yet it serves as the foundation for many other laws or oaths that provide description about what morals of medicine and good practice should be like. Medical graduates commonly take these oaths before they start off their career as a doctor.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • Hippocrates is believed to have breathed his last in 370 BC in Larissa, Greece. Some records state that the Greek physician died at the age of 83 or 90. Some other accounts claim that Hippocrates had lived more than 100 years.
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  • He had two sons Draco and Thessalus whom he apprenticed in the practice of medicine. He also had a daughter and there is a legend about Hippocrates daughter. She was turned into a hundred foot long dragon by a Goddess named Diane and is considered to be the “Lady of the manor” of an old castle.
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  • He is considered to be the “Father of Medicine”. The contributions that he made brought in revolution in the field of medicine and its practice.
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  • Hippocratic form of baldness is considered to be the most severe form of hair loss.
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  • A number of clinical signs and symptoms have been named after him and historians believe that he has been the first one to describe them. Few of the notable ones are Hippocratic Face, Hippocratic Oath, Hippocratic Corpus, Hippocratic Succussion, Hippocratic Bench, Hippocratic cap-shaped bandage, Hippocratic fingers etc.
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  • A lunar crater has been named in honor of Hippocrates.
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  • A museum in the Greek island of Kos has been dedicated to him and has been named as Hippocratic Museum. A program of the New York University Medical Centre that aims at enhancing education through technology has been named as ‘The Hippocratic Project’.
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  • In 2009, Michael Hulse and Donald Singer founded ‘The Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine’.
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  • Hippocrates is believed to have written many books including, On Fractures, On Injuries of head, Of the Epidemics, On Fistulae, On Ulcers, The Oath, The law, Instruments of Reduction, Aphorisms, On the Surgery, On Ancient Medicine, On the Articulations, On Hemorrohoids, The book of Prognostics, On Regimen in Acute Diseases, On the Sacred Disease, On Airs, Waters and Places etc.
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See the events in life of Hippocrates in Chronological Order

Pictures of Hippocrates

Quotes By Hippocrates

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Books by Hippocrates

    Hippocrates, Volume I: Ancient Medicine (Loeb Classical Library, No. 147)

    by Hippocrates

    Hippocrates, Volume III: On Wounds in the Head (Loeb Classical Library, No. 149)

    by Hippocrates

    Hippocrates: Epidemics 2, 4-7 (Loeb Classical Library No. 477)

    by Hippocrates

Books About Hippocrates

    Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome

    by Robert E. Adler

    In Search of Hippocrates: A Solution to the Health Care Crisis Facing America

    by Dr. Martin J. Collen,Dr. Mark J. Handwerker

    7 Keys to Lifelong Sexual Vitality: The Hippocrates Institute Guide to Sex, Health, and Happiness

    by Anna Maria Clement

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