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June 6, 2013

There is a vast amount of material attributed to Hippocrates in the form of the ‘Hippocratic Corpus’; likely compiled between 430 – 370 BC. Attempts have been made to attribute works within the Corpus to Hippocrates though few are believed to have been written by him. Attributing works to Hippocrates is made particularly difficult as little is known about his life and no biographical information is contained within the Corpus itself.

There are references to a Doctor called Hippocrates in Plato’s Phaedrus (270c-d) and Protagoras (311b) where it is identified that he was from the island of Cos, a member of the Asclepiad and charged a fee for the teaching of medicine. The evidence of Plato indicates that a well known Doctor called Hippocrates operated in approximately 430 BC (King, 2001:9). Whether it was the Hippocrates to whom the Hippocratic Corpus is attributed is impossible to tell, particularly given that there is no contemporary evidence to support any analysis.

The mystery of Hippocrates is further hampered by the creation of fake letters and documents from 200 BC onwards, referred to as the ‘pseudepigrapha’, formulating a false reality of his life.

King (2001:10) suggests that ‘Hippocrates became the Father of Medicine largely by default’.  Given what little is known about Hippocrates it would appear to be the case, particularly as the evidence suggests that Hippocrates was the first well known Doctor. However,  although in part I agree with King’s assessment there is insufficient evidence to support a firm conclusion. I would suggest that it is more likely than not that a Doctor called Hippocrates was involved in the Corpus’ early development. This is based on the importance of Cos as a centre for the development of medicine and the evidence of Plato. Therefore, I cannot wholeheartedly commit to the view that Hippocrates was given the title of ‘Father of Medicine’ by default and instead would propose the probability that it may, to a certain extent, be warranted.


Primary Sources

Plato Phaedrus Translated by Waterfield, R. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Plato Protagoras The Essential Plato Translated by Jowett, B. TSP, 1999.

Secondary Sources

King, H. Greek and Roman Medicine Bristol Classical Press, 2001.

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