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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What are ancient diseases?

Nosology is the branch of medicine that deals with the classification of disease.  It's a branch of medicine that didn't get it's start until the 10th century, although didn't gain much attention until the 17th century when doctors, nosologists, started defining diseases in an attempt to describe them for doctors, and treat them.

Prior to nosology diseases were the symptoms.  Primitive people had no knowledge of anatomy.  They had no knowledge of natural etiology.  So the symptom was the disease.  If a person had many symptoms the one that was most dominant was the disease.

The following are some diseases:
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Cough
  • Increased Sputum
  • Pain
  • Fever
We know there may be many causes of the above examples, yet primitive people, even ancient people from Greece, Egypt or Babylone had no concept of had no concept of the real cause.  They believed diseases were caused by evil spirits, black bagic, the dead, and gods (I wrote about this here).

Primitive people cured diseases by using incantations and prayers.  Ancient people ultimately learned another, natural, means of treating diseases.

For example, if the pain a headache, it was probably caused by an evil spirit and the remedy was an incantation.  If the pain was caused by a natural fall that resulted in a broken bone, the remedy was to set the bone and bandage it.  Perhaps rub ointments or salves on it to facilitate healing.  Of course the gods made the medicine work. 

The Babylonians and Egyptian physicians learned by trial and error how to fix broken bones.  Surely they learned this becasue there were fights between individuals, falls, and ultimately wars. So methods of treating, setting, breaks actually worked.  Herbs and ointments may have worked to sometimes, yet the dose would have to be just right, and the recipe must be just right, and the method of delivery must be just right. 

When poeple learned to write and read, to write books, to read books, they were able to share this information.  Physicians, who must have also been scribes, could look up the medical condition, or disease, and the remedy will be right there.  The book may also describe untreatable ailments. 

Historians have access to many ancient medical texts, many of which include just magic, magic and natural remedies, or both.  Some include surgeries, treatment of war injuries, natural remedies, etc.  And we must not think of magic as nonrational, because to the primitive man it was rational. 


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