Guide Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice (Ancient Cultures)

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Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History

On the sixth. On the eighth. On the ninth, in the same state. On the tenth, no drink taken; comatose, sleep slight; alvine discharges the same; urine abundant, and thickish; when allowed to stand , the sediment farinaceous and white ; extremities again cold. On the eleventh, he died 15 [Emphasis added].

The reason for their obsession with excretions remains uncertain but may relate to their theory of humors. Seldom was there mention of solid material in urine. A much smaller portion of their description of patients was devoted to the appearance of excretions than is found in Hippocratic writings. How ancient physicians organized medical findings also helps to understand their approach to treatment. Generally the physician will employ a therapy to treat a condition because it has some characteristic that is believed to be susceptible to the medicine.

Some medical cultures directed the treatment at individual signs or symptoms while in others the signs and symptoms were organized into diseases and syndromes that were then the object of treatment. No disease names or syndromes are assigned to any of the 42 cases in Of the Epidemics. This generally holds true for the Hippocratic corpus, with the exception of conditions that involve specific anatomical sites such as a dislocated joint, or a broken bone. Rather than developing therapies directed against a specific disease or syndrome, the Hippocratic physician directed his therapies to the treatment of symptoms such as fever or diarrhea.

Medicine in Mesopotamia was organized into diseases and syndromes, and treatment was symptomatic only when the disease was considered to be incurable. When two or more syndromes were similar, the textbook compared signs and symptoms to illustrate their differences. Diseases and syndromes were commonly named after gods, demons, and spirits; but it appears that the characteristics of the disease or syndrome were first established by the signs and symptoms, and only then was it assigned the name of a god, demon, or spirit. If a person eats bread and drinks beer and then he continually produces mucus, he incessantly vomits mucus, he shows mucus and black blood, he has constriction of the mouth of the stomach pylorus , and his upper abdomen burns, burns hotly, stings and hurts him, that person is sick with A.

Mighty is the affliction of bushanu.


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It seized the uvula like a lion; it seized the hard palate like a wolf. It seized the soft palate; it seized the tongue. It set up its throne in the windpipe. One reference describes a patient with a wasted and gaunt face. In all cases the prognosis is fatal or very grave. It seems very likely—especially since the steppe is an area of limited food resources—that this syndrome is due to protein malnutrition Kwashiorkor. The hair changes described are all known to occur in protein malnutrition:. If the hair of his head is red, he will die. If the hair of his head is red and frizzes, he will die.

The Hippocratic Corpus devotes many sections to both general principals of surgery and to specific surgical techniques. Matters such as lighting, clothing, cleanliness, and decorum during surgery were discussed. Most of the specific surgical techniques involved orthopedic procedures such as joint dislocations and fractures. The techniques used and the anatomy involved were described in great detail. Many devices were crafted to aid the surgeon in reducing the dislocation or fracture.


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Other surgical techniques were listed such as the drainage of abscesses, and the treatment of rectal fistulae and hemorrhoids. The Mesopotamian physician performed surgery, but the details of their techniques were minimal. Abscesses as well as pulmonary empyemas were drained.

Description

Casts were applied to broken bones, and nose bleeds were packed. There is a reference that suggests that Caesarian sections were performed, but the nature of the description leaves some doubt as to exactly what was done. It is likely that only the fetus might have survived such a procedure.

The limited descriptions of surgical techniques and procedures in the Mesopotamian medical literature suggests that their surgical performance was also limited in scope and quality. Hippocratic physicians developed a number of theories that supported their therapeutic approaches. The only one to be discussed in this article is the most prominent and influential one, the Theory of Humors. In brief, this theory states that the body contains four humors: phlegm, yellow bile, black bile and blood, and these were derived from food.

Health depended on maintaining these humors in proper balance.

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Blood in vomitus and stool, if it has been denatured by stomach acid, will look dark brown or black, which may be the substance described by these physicians as black bile. Purging may have been practiced in an attempt to achieve a balance of humors, but it was certainly not developed based on clinical observations of improvement after purging. Almost no diseases will profit from the induction of vomiting or defecation.

This is why the blood of women, who are colder by nature, produces a residue that is insufficiently cooked, useless unless the woman is pregnant, and thus voided by the menses. If the woman is impregnated, this residue provides only the matter of the embryo, the nourishment for the fetus during the pregnancy, and finally the milk after the birth.

The difference in the quality of the residue at once puts the male and female in a hierarchical relationship:. This is why, wherever possible and to the extent possible, the male is distinct from the female. For the principle of movement, i.


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  5. This difference of nature is still more visible in the branch of Hippocratic medicine concerned with female anatomy: the gynecological treatises. Known as the Hippocratic gynecological treatises, these are of different eras; the majority are attributed by the tradition to the Cnidean school of medicine. They represent the female and male bodies as profoundly dissimilar. The essential difference between the two anatomies is the existence in the woman of a supplementary container-organ, the uterus, whose distinctive feature is to be perceived as a sort of mobile living creature.

    It is animated, actually endowed with movement, and in particular can open or close. It is naturally inclined to move toward sources of moisture. Some of its movements are attributable to its will, for it is endowed with a will of its own. When [the uterus] has remained sterile for a long time after having passed the suitable age, this organ becomes impatient; it does not accept this state, and because it begins to wander throughout the body, obstructing the orifices by which the breath goes out and preventing respiration, it throws the body into the most extreme states and provokes illnesses of all kinds.

    As for Aristotle, who clearly knew more about the anatomy of female animals than of women, he has left us no description of the female human body, which would have had little utility for him in any case, since his objective is not medical. He even practiced vivisection on criminals condemned to death, if we are to believe the possibly malicious testimony of the Latin encyclopedist Celsus 1.

    But while it is almost certain that he identified, in the human reproductive apparatus, the spermatic canal, the ovaries, and the Fallopian tubes, it is unlikely that he understood their workings. In fact, these discoveries obliged the physicians of the Roman era to undertake laborious readjustments of their doctrines. Galen, one or two generations later, picked up and developed the medical concepts of his predecessors in a synthetic and critical spirit, with a clearly Aristotelian orientation.

    Ancient Babylonian Medicine | Health and Fitness History

    Drawing on the anatomical discoveries of the Alexandrian physicians, he interpreted the female body in light of the male body. The difference between the sexes is seen in the development of the reproductive organs: those of women are identical to those of men analogies are drawn between the ovaries and testicles, between the uterus and the scrotum ; 50 they have simply remained inside the body due to a lack of vital heat. Anatomy is thus merely a reflection of a difference between the sexes which originates in physiology; but this difference is now only a difference of degree and is no longer thought of as a difference of nature.

    Thus the woman differs from the man only in a lesser perfection:. Just as the human species is the most perfect of all the animals, within the human the man is more perfect than the woman, and the reason for his perfection is his greater heat, for heat is the first instrument of nature. In a teleological perspective, the Pergamene physician sees in it the design of nature: to permit the assurance of reproduction.