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 health.

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 " 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.