Troublemakers and Ostracism

Paul U. Unschuld

in What Is Medicine?

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780520257658
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944701 | DOI:
Troublemakers and Ostracism

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This chapter focuses on the doctrine of four humors introduced by Polybos towards the end of the fifth century bc, applying it consistently to the assessment of the human organism, or to the explanation of health and illness. He was the first to base the interpretation of the human conditions of sickness and health purely on the laws of nature and thus on a scientific foundation. The impulse for new thinking always came from outside the body. First came changes in the social structures in which the Greeks lived or aspired to live. Structures triggering a shift in thinking can be real or ideal. The structures that led to the rethinking in ancient Greece were those of the polis democracy. The monistic view of the “rulers” of a fundamental element must have naturally yielded to the new view of a larger number. The important thing is that the idea prevailed that several fundamental elements carried, in their mixture, a complex structure and thus made life possible for the structure. The details come from the graphic nature of the body. After the basic structures imposed themselves from the outside onto the body, the reality of the body could deliver material to fill up the fundamental structures.

Keywords: doctrine of four humors; human organism; laws of nature; social structures; ancient Greece; polis democracy

Chapter.  1351 words. 

Subjects: Medical Anthropology

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