Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/224

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220
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

ON THE HISTORY OF INTERNAL MEDICINE[1]
By JOHN BENJAMIN NICHOLS, M.D.
WASHINGTON, D. C.

AS a subject of general rather than of technical interest appropriate to this occasion, I propose to present a brief historical survey and some considerations relating to the development of internal medicine.

One of the primitive tendencies of human nature is the development and employment of procedures aiming at the relief of personal ailments and injuries. It is probable that all peoples have to a greater or less extent developed something in the way of therapeutic practises. In primitive stages of culture some agents of efficiency may have come into domestic and popular use; but the chief development of medicine in primitive societies has been in association with religious cults or superstitious observances. Originally medical practise was mainly a function of the priesthood. Even under such conditions the powerful force of psychotherapy must have been brought into action so as to be of benefit to distressed humanity.

Ancient writings have preserved to us some account of the therapeutic methods in vogue in the earliest historic civilizations, such as the Egyptian, Jewish, Babylonian, Assyrian, Indian, Chinese, etc.: among these medicine was chiefly practised by the priests. It was among the Greeks, however, and especially by Hippocrates and his associates 2,300 years ago, that the foundations were laid from which through a continuous line of existence and evolution can be traced the development of civilized medicine to its present state. Probably from the Egyptians and other antecedent and neighboring nations were derived some contributions to Greek medicine, but the derivation is not now clearly traceable, and practically the school of Hippocrates stands as the originator of the present era of medicine. Since his time the development of internal medicine has been intimately involved in four great epochs or movements of civilization and thought, so that its history is divisible into the following corresponding grand epochs:

1. Greek (also Roman and Byzantine) medicine; from before 500 B.C. to the fall of the Roman Empire,—A.D. 476 (Rome), 640 (Alexandria), 1453 (Byzantium).

2. Arabian medicine; about 750 to 1200 A. D.

  1. Presidential address before the George Washington University Medical Society, May 20, 1911.