Medicine

Medicine is the science that studies the diseases of the human body in order to guarantee people’s health, in particular establishing the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, as well as different ways of alleviating the suffering of the sick (even those who cannot more heal).

The care of the body, understood in both medical and therapeutic sense, is practically innate with man: originally it had, almost certainly, an instinctive and individual character but soon it was the object of reflection and led to the search for the causes of disease. The scientific study of popular medical knowledge (ethnoiatry) has highlighted two interrelated strands the one that attributes to the disease an exclusively supernatural origin and the one that considers the disease an “accident” more or less random, but always natural, and only partially influenced by the subject (the sick person) and by extraneous interventions, even supernatural, thus managing to establish a certain connection between the disease and the seat of it; as evidenced, for example, by the discovery that various peoples carry out (or carried out) the drilling of the skull as a cure for epilepsy as well as a surgical intervention to resolve traumatisms as a result of blows received.

Empirical medicine progressed in time, both with the continuous discovery of the pharmacological power of certain natural substances, especially vegetables, and with the improvement of “surgical” techniques. All popular medicine is still influenced by a strong sense of magic, even when the treatment with medicines and surgery takes on a specific character: wizards, shamans, healers, who follow the first strand, adopt magic-suggestive formulas (purifications, exorcisms, counterfactuals) with the aim of restoring harmony between micro and macrocosm, between the sick and the supernatural being who causes the disease, or to oppose a negative force to a positive one. This concept is linked to the use of the imposition of hands, as a remedy for disease, followed in Roman times (by the pater familias) and medieval (by the king or the lord) and still widespread in some religions. On the other hand, the naturalistic approach, whose most typical representatives are African medicine men, Chippewa mide and herbalists (known among all peoples), is based on the diagnosis of illness, sometimes with surprising precision, and pharmacological and surgical treatments (e.g., acupuncture, appendectomy, laparotomy, extraction and treatment of teeth, reduction of fractures) that make use of a rich heritage of empirical knowledge, which is still a source of study to obtain positive pharmacological aids.

All these cures are always accompanied by a remarkable suggestive action (recommendations of herbalists, manipulations-prayer-singing of men-medicine) which aims to stimulate the organic defenses of the sick (survival instinct) making use of magic in a positive sense. The wealth of empirical knowledge, enriched over time, is the basis of the progress of medicine in the classical era when it comes to a first codification of diseases and remedies and the formation of a caste of medical professionals more or less influenced by the supernatural: in Greece, Rome, China, India, Babylon, medicine tended more and more to take on a rigorously scientific aspect; in Egypt and in the Mexican-Andean area, however, it fell under the control of the priests, for which there was a clear prevalence of the supernatural in both diagnoses and therapeutic direction; elsewhere, especially in Africa, both traditional strands persisted (even until recent times). The scientific-philosophical criticism was accentuated in the Hellenistic period: in the Greek world there were temples dedicated to the god Asclepius, in which the sick, during the night, in the “incubation”, were advised and sometimes miraculously healed by the god, but the priests, in fact, practiced spa treatments and even surgery in the healthy temples of Epidaurus, Pergamum, Kos.

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