Campbell Corner Language Exchange
Applicability of the Hippocratic Healing Method
by Niki Clements
If the natural orders of the individual
and the community are themselves modeled upon
the order of the greater cosmos, similar methods
of healing must apply to the stabilizing of each.
To investigate this idea, let us start with Democritus
who gives credence to the parallel nature of the
body and the universe proposing that "Man is a
small 'ordered world'"(Fr.12), or kosmos. If each
man is thus ordered, a collection of men must
maintain the integrity of the original order inherent
in each one of them by applying it to the larger
community they establish. This is the founding
principle of the relationship between the body
and the body politic.
However, if a similar harmony is
inherent to both, they will be prone to similar
instabilities. Such upsets in the natural equilibrium
of the body result in illness, while upsets in
the community result in social turmoil and revolution.
In order to countervail the excess causing the
upsets in the body we look to medicine, to alleviate
unrest in the body politic we turn to political
modes of guidance. In sum, the metaphor of the
body invites us to draw analogies between therapies
for individual and collective entities. Thus the
methods used by Hippocrates as medicinal healer
to the body, were appropriately applied by analogy
to the body politic by Solon as political healer
of the city-state of Attica.
It is of foremost importance that
the Hippocratic method is triadic, involving physician,
patient, and the disease. The physician does not
manipulate the body of the patient, but rather
acts as the mediator between patient and disease.
According to the Hippocratic doctrine, "a physician's
aim in dealing with any illness should be to halt
the conditions that promote its flourishing and
to wear it down by applying remedies hostile to
it"(i.21). As mediator, the physician uses his
knowledge of the natures of both patient and disease
in order to empathetically and effectively guide
the interaction between the two, in an effort
to expel the excess propagated by the disease
and preventing a return to the equilibrium of
An analogical example of the Hippocratic
healing method put into practice is the case of
the ailing city-state of Attica. In the 6th century
BCE, Solon took on the role of physician in an
attempt to heal the Athenian body politic. In
this case, the patient was the common good of
the citizens, i.e. the POLIS. The city state's
population was divided into three warring factions
on the brink of a full scale civil war. Above
all, the disease subjugating the common good of
Attica was the societal imbalance of the many
being enslaved to the few, where the sheer number
of peasants could not countervail the oppressive
power of the oligarchs, or rather plutocrats,
driven by "love of money, overweening pride and
insolence". However, the oligarchs themselves
were prey to disease, being held under the tyranny
of pleonexia and amathia. The enslavement of the
individual oligarch by the mental bondage imposed
by these disorders resulted in the physical bondage
of the enslaved peasants in the community.
As the Athenians were overtaken
by a common frenzy of the mind, none could even
see the krisis, thus necessitating the intervention
of the impartial yet empathetic mediator, Solon,
and the application of a derivation of the Hippocratic
healing method of the "four k's". The krisis,
as 'trial-and-judgement', reached its peak which
coincided with the kairos, or 'opportune moment'
for Solon as physician to employ his art. By instituting
the 'Shaking-off of the Burdens' or Seisachtheia,
in the joint measures of canceling all debts and
freeing all men sold into slavery, Solon produced
a katharsis of Athenian society where the oppressive
elements were expelled, thus being able to reestablish
the krasis of social health.
In keeping with the Hippocratic
dictum that "...it is the part of wisdom to make
adjustments to the situation that nature has provided"(Fr.iv.6),
Solon acted as a wise physician and prompted a
more just way of life for all Athenians. However,
in order to maintain this order of justice, it
was necessary for the citizens to intellectually
moderate this insatiability and exercise self-control.
With each man thus striving towards personal sophrosyne,
man's intellect was freed from his previous bondage
to pleonexia, thus allowing the formation of democratic
and philosophic institutions in a more just society.
If we return to the view that the
constitutive principles of man, community, and
cosmos are in essence one and the same, we see
the trans-applicability of the healing process.
As we have seen in the case of Attica, just as
diseases affecting individuals exercise its power
by oppressing the community as a whole, so too
is the moral converse true--that by seeking what
is 'best' and employing moral virtue, the individual
has the ability to extend this 'good' to the improvement
of the community and mankind. In turn, this moral
improvement can affect even the level of the cosmos,
establishing an even greater measure of justice.
Mediators, such as Solon, are therefore
indispensable and epitomize the Hippocratic aphorism
that states that "a physician who is a 'lover
of wisdom'(philosophos) is equal to the gods"(Fr.iv.7).
Such a description can be undoubtedly bestowed
upon Solon who elicited such progress through
his wisdom that the resulting social harmony has
been called, by historians no less, a divine blessing.