4. We All Want to Know “Why?”

Why me? Why now? Ancient religion blamed the gods, or your failings in not honouring the right one in the right way. Ancient medicine also explained illness in terms of what you had done wrong, but it pointed less to moral failings and instead to eating the wrong foods, or taking too much or too little exercise. The time of year, the location of your home, or the prevailing wind could all play a part in diagnosis.

Once we know “why”, we can find out what to do to get better. Ancient medicine suggests that putting the blame only on the patient won’t help, something modern medicine is just starting to realise. People are more likely to have a positive attitude if they can look to a “why?” that’s outside themselves.


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5. We Don’t Know Everything

Perhaps I’m biased on this point: my pregnant mother turned down the offer of a prescription of thalidomide, a drug that used to be prescribed for morning sickness but was eventually discovered to severely damage unborn children. Medicine gets it wrong. We’d be naive to think that everything we do now is right.

The ancient Greeks thought they had the answers. So do we. Looking at a medical system so different from our own, but one which lasted for many centuries, teaches us that we should never accept anything without challenging it and without being prepared to rethink if new evidence comes along.

But the Greeks also teach us that medicine needs to make sense to its audience. It was not like our quest for “a pill for every ill”, the same treatment for a disease regardless of the patient. It was holistic, preventative, and tailored to the individual. Similarly, in the wake of modern genetic studies, customising medicine to each person has become a focus of medicine once more. We can learn a lot from the ancient Greeks.

The Conversation

Helen King is a Professor of Classical Studies at The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.