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Religion and Rational Medicine – My Thoughts

April 28, 2013

The work I have undertaken today has focused on the link between religion and rational medicine. I consider that the link with religion was particularly strong and fundamental to the success of rational medicine. This link is demonstrated in the Oath that Doctors swore;

‘I swear by Apollo the physician, and Asclepius, and Hygieia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses as my witnesses, that, according to my ability and judgement, I will keep this Oath and this contract’

 [Hippocrates], Hippocratic Oath

This is just a small section of the oath but I believe it demonstrates, in the first instance, the close connection between religion and medicine; but why would rational doctors pursue such a link? The research I have undertaken has led me to the following conclusions

1. Where a doctor was unable to cure a patient they were able to a refer a person to Asclepius. This in turn protected their reputation as a good physician as the person would not die in their care.

2. There was a particularly strong link between Hippocratic schools and the sanctuaries. The divine link that Asclepius provided legitimised their profession.

3. Doctors did not condone the practices of ‘quacks, charlatans, purifiers, and magicians, pretenders with no real ability to treat illness’ (Wickkiser 2008: 30). They instead referred people to the sanctuaries where proper religious observance was undertaken.

I would go into further detail but I have not yet had the chance to fully consider these observations in light of primary and secondary evidence. There is certainly evidence in support of each conclusion and I look forward to being able to present this in the not too distant future.


Wickkiser, B. Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-century Greece: Between Craft and Cult Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.


From → Ancient Medicine

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