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Al-Shahrastani: ‘The Apothegms of Hippocrates’

Hippocrates was the founder of Medicine; both ancients and moderns acknowledge his excellence; the major part of his wisdom consists in the art of Medicine that made him famous. His fame came to Bahman, son of Isfandiyar son of Vistasp, who wrote to Peritos, the king of Kos-It is a place in Greece- summoning Hippocrates to come to him and offered a wealth of golden talents, but Hippocrates rejected his offer and did not want to go to him, in consideration of his own country and its people. The poor and the people of mediocre fortune did not pay for his art, but he asked from the rich to be paid in three things: A necklace, a diadem and a golden bracelet.

Here are some of his apothegms:

1 – Hippocrates said: ‘Don’t matter death, as its bitterness lies in the fear we have of it.’

2 – He was asked: ‘What is the better life?’ and he answered: ‘Being still and poor is far better than being rich and anxious.’

3 – He said: ‘Walls and fortresses can’t protect cities; what preserves them are just opinions of men and the rule of the wise.’

4 – He said: ‘Every person is taken care of with the remedies of his own country because the nature of each of them desires the air of his own country and longs for the food that come from there.’

5 – When his death came, he said: ‘Learn from me the synthesis of all sciences: He who sleeps a lot, whose nature is fair and the skin humid, this one will live long.’

6 – He said: ‘Better reduce what is obnoxious than add what is useful.’

7 – He said: ‘If Man was created with only one nature, he would not become ill, because there will be nothing that would be hostile to it and causes the illness.’

8 – One day he came into the house of an ailing man and said: ‘There is me, the illness and you; if you help me to fight against it in doing what I will tell you to do, we will be two and the illness will be alone; therefore, we will be stronger than it. When two unite against one, they will prevail.’

9 – Hippocrates was asked: ‘Why does a man’s body become agitated after drinking a remedy?’ He answered: ‘It is like a house. There is more dust when we sweep.’

10 – Hippocrates said: ‘Eat what your stomach finds agreeable. What does not give it this impression will eat you.’

11 – Some people asked Hippocrates: ‘Why a dead man is so heavy?’ He answered: ‘Because he is made of two things: one thing is light and uplifting, while the other thing is heavy and pulls downwards; therefore, when one of these two leaves, -it is the lighter one, uplifting- the one pulling downwards becomes heavier.’

12 – Hippocrates said: ‘We treat the body as a whole in five manners: What is in the head with gargles, what is in the stomach with vomit, what is in the thorax with purgation, what is in between the two skins with sudation, what is in the deepness of the body and in the veins with bloodletting.

13 – Hippocrates said: ‘Yellow bile is located in the gall bladder and rules over the liver; phlegm is located in the stomach and rules the chest. Black bile is located in the spleen and rules the heart; blood is located in the heart and rules over the head.’

14 – Hippocrates once said to one of his disciples: ‘What will give you a better access to people is to grow affection for them, to be interested in their affairs, to know their situation, and to do them good.’

15 – This saying of Hippocrates is well known: ‘Life is short, our art is long; the favorable moment is brief, time is always new; experience is always hazardous and judgment difficult.’

16 – To one of his disciple Hippocrates said: ‘Divide nighttime and daytime in three parts; then seek in the first part to form the best thought; in the second part act accordingly to what this thought would have taught you; then devote yourself in the third part to those who do not think; run away from the wicked as much as you can.’

17 – There was one of Hippocrates‘ sons who did not want to be educated; his wife told him: ‘Your son comes from you, educate him.’ Hippocrates answered: ‘He comes from me as for his nature, but, in regard to his soul, what can I do?’

18 – Hippocrates said: ‘What is abundant is against the order of nature; we are ought to keep measure in our food, drinks, sleep, sexual intercourse, tiredness.’

19 – Hippocrates said: ‘When the body’s health is at its peak, it is in great danger.’

20 – Hippocrates said: ‘Medicine is about preserving health through means proper to healthy people and to chase away illness with what is contrary to it.’

21 – Hippocrates said: ‘A doctor who make someone drink poison, who practices abortion, who prevent a woman from being pregnant, who put the patient in danger, this man is not worthy of me and my retinue.’ He later wrote well known oaths dealing with these serious matters.

Hippocrates also said that nature is a force that rules the body of man and gives him its shape; from sperm to the achievement of his constitution; it is in the service of the soul and labors to the improvement of its temple. It is nature that ceaselessly provide his food; first from the mother’s bosoms, then from the food that allows him to subsist. Nature uses three great powers: The generative power, the plastic power, and the power of conservation. These three are served by four others: The attractive force, the retentive force, the digestive force and the repulsive force.

Source: ‘The Apophtegms of Hippocrates’, a small chapter within Al-Shahrastani’s masterwork, the ‘Kitab al-Milal wa al-Nihal’ (The Book of Sects and Creeds). From page 260 to 265. / Portrait: Morgado de Setúbal, Museum of Evora
Al-Shahrastani: ‘The Apothegms of Hippocrates’

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