The Collison Newsletter June 2016




Cos (Kos) is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, off the Anatolian Coast of Turkey.

A visit to ancient Cos reveals the origins and traditions of modern medicine, of naturopathy, of hypnosis and of psychotherapy.

This article gives a brief insight into the specific contribution of Hippocrates, The Father of Medicine and Asclepius The God of Medicine

  • It was in Cos, circa 460BC, that Hippocrates was born, and it was at an asclepion on the isle of Cos that he is said to have received his medical training.
  • Asclepeia were healing temples setup throughout ancient Greece, sacred to Asclepius. Some of the procedures at these asclepeia are seen as precursors to todays understanding of hypnosis and psychotherapy.

In July 2016, I will present the following text (with illustrative photos) at the International Congress of Naturopathic Medicine in Barcelona, Spain.



Hippocrates, born circa 460BC in Cos, was a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles (Classical Greece), and is considered oneof the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine.



He is referred to as "The Father of Western Medicine" in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field, as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields with which it had traditionally been associated (theurgy and philosophy), thus establishing medicine as a profession.

Although Hippocrates is classically called "The Father of Western Medicine", his contributions to the principles and practice of Medicine today, ranging from the Hippocratic Oath to the wisdom enshrined in his famous sayings, would also entitle him to be referred to as The Father of Naturopathic Medicine.

Hippocrates is credited with being the first person to believe that diseases were caused naturally, not because of superstition and gods. He separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits.

Hippocratic medicine was humble and passive. The therapeutic approach was based on "the healing power of nature" ("vis medicatrix naturae" in Latin). According to this doctrine, the body contains within itself the power to re-balance the four humours and heal itself (physis). Hippocratic therapy focused on simply easing this natural process. To this end, Hippocrates believed "rest and immobilization [were] of capital importance." In general, the Hippocratic medicine was very kind to the patient; treatment was gentle, and emphasized keeping the patient clean and sterile. For example, only clean water or wine were ever used on wounds, though "dry" treatment was preferable. Soothing balms were sometimes employed.

Hippocrates and his followers were first to describe many diseases and medical conditions.

The Wisdom of Hippocrates

Primum non nocere.
This Latin phrase means "First do no harm". The phrase is sometimes recorded as primum nil nocere.
It is one of the principal precepts of bioethics that all healthcare students are taught in school and is a fundamental principle throughout the world. Another way Hippocrates expressed it was "given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good." It reminds the health care provider that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm, but a less certain chance of benefit.
Nature is the healer of disease.
First of all a natural talent is required;
for when Nature opposes, everything else is in vain;
but when Nature leads the way to what is most excellent,
instruction in the art takes place..
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.
If we could give every individual
the right amount of nourishment and exercise,
not too little and not too much,
we would have found the safest way to health.
There are in fact two things, science and opinion;
the former begets knowledge, the later ignorance.
The soul is the same in all living creatures
although the body of each is different.
Healing is a matter of time,
but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.
To do nothing is also a good remedy.
Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.
A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings,
and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.
Even when all is known, the care of a man is not yet complete,
because eating alone will not keep a man well;
he must also take exercise.
For food and exercise, while possessing opposite qualities,
yet work together to produce health.
Everything in excess is opposed to nature
Any man who is intelligent must,
on considering that health is of the utmost value to human beings,
have the personal understanding necessary to help himself in diseases,
and be able to understand and to judge
what physicians say and what they administer to his body,
being versed in each of these matters to a degree reasonable for a layman.
Wherever the art of medicine is loved,
there is also a love of humanity.
Walking is man's best medicine.
It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease
than to know what sort of disease a person has.
The life so short, the craft so long to learn.
The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself,
but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate.
Prayer indeed is good,
but while calling on the gods
a man should himself lend a hand.
Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.
The chief virtue that language can have is clearness,
and nothing detracts from it so much
as the use of unfamiliar words.
Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick,
and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm,
especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free.
And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession,
as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men,
if it be what should not be published abroad,
I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.
As to diseases, make a habit of two things:
to help, or at least to do no harm.
And if this were so in all cases, the principle would be established,
that sometimes conditions can be treated
by things opposite to those from which they arose,
and sometimes by things like to those from which they arose.
Physicians are many in title but very few in reality.

The Hippocratic Oath

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. Of historic and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine in many countries, although nowadays various modernized versions are often used.

The original oath was written in Ionic Greek, in the late Fifth Century BC. It begins , , : .......

The English translation of the oath begins:

I swear by Apollo Physician, by Asclepius, by Health, by Panacea and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture ..



His symbol was a serpent-entwined staff.

Asclipiuss father was Apollo, one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman religion and mythology. Apollo was the son of the god Zeus.

Medicine and healing are associated with Apollo, whether through the god himself or mediated through his son Asclepius. Apollo has been recognized as a god of healing, and Asclepius shared with Apollo the epithet Paean ("the Healer").

In Greek mythology and religion, Asclepius received his name as a result of his birth, in which his mother had to have her womb cut open in order for him to be birthed. This is now known as a cesarean section. Asclepius means "to cut open".

Four of Asclepiuss nine children were:

  • Hygieia, the goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation, from whom we derive our word hygiene.
  • Iaso, the goddess of recuperation from illness
  • Aceso, the goddess of the healing process
  • Panacea, the goddess of universal remedy, from whom we have our word panacea.

Caduceus and Rod of Asclepius

The caduceus, or the Rod of Hermes, is the traditional symbol of Hermes (an Olympian god, son of Zeus) and features two snakes winding around an often winged staff.

In classical mythology, it was the staff carried by Hermes, as messenger of the gods. Hermes was also the god of commerce, hence the caduceus was also the symbol of commerce.

It is often mistakenly (and incorrectly) used as a symbol or emblem of medicine, instead of the Rod of Asclepius.

The Rod of Asclepius is an ancient Greek symbol associated with medicine. It consists of a single serpent coiled around a rod.

The Rod of Asclepius is the logo of the World Health Organization. Car badges of Members of the Australian Medical Association traditionally displayed the Rod of Asclepius. Confusingly, and in error, car badges of the British Medical Association traditionally displayed the Rod of Hermes.

A similar symbol is mentioned in the Bible as having been used for healing after the bite of a snake: Moses lifted up the serpent on a pole.


In ancient Greece and Rome, an asclepeion was a healing temple, sacred to the god Asclepius, the Grecian God of Medicine. These healing temples (plural asclepeia) were religious temples, a place patients would visit to receive treatment or some sort of healing, whether it was spiritual or physical.

Epidaurus was the first place to worship Asclepius as a god, beginning sometime in the 5th century BC. Located on the Argolid plain of the east Peloponnese in Greece, Epidaurus (named after a son of Apollo) was the main asclepeion.

Today, on the southern slopes of the Acropolis of Athens, lay the ruins of an asclepeion which dates back to around 420 BC.

The Cult of Aclepius

Starting around 300 BC, the cult of Asclepius became increasingly popular, and pilgrims flocked to various asclepeia to be healed. Patients would come to pay homage to the gods by making pilgrimages to the site, performing a prayer or a sacrifice, giving monetary gifts or even sleep at the temple.

Asclepeia provided carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing and fulfilled several of the requirements of institutions created for healing. They also served as a sanctuary for those who were extremely ill.

Since snakes were sacred to Asclepius, they were often used in healing rituals. Non-venomous snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept.

At the asclepeion, there were various people such as physicians, priests and support staff, who would assist those who sought a session of healing. They were known as Therapeutae of Asclepius one who is attendant to the gods.

Hippocrates is said to have received his medical training at an asclepeion on the isle of Cos.

Procedures Performed at the Asclepeion

There were two steps in order for a patient to be considered to be treated in the Asclepeion:

The first was Katharsis, or the purification stage. Here, the patient would undergo a series of baths and other methods of purging, such as a clean diet over a series of several days, or purging their emotions through art. The patient would then make an offering such as money or a prayer to the temple, therefore to Asclepius. The priest of the temple would then give the patient a prayer to ease the patient's mind and provide them a more positive outlook.

The second step was incubation or dream therapy. Patients would spend the night at the temple of Asclepius and during the night, they would be visited by a god. If the patient was lucky, Asclepius himself would visit him. The patient would then receive the proper treatment whilst in the dream or receive directions from Asclepius on what the necessary steps were to treat their ailment. If Asclepius did not visit the patient, when the patient woke they would tell their dream to a priest or a dream-interpreter: dependent on the type of dream would be the type of treatment the patient would receive, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium.

Hence asclepeions also became known as Sleep Temples.


Sleep temples (also known as Dream temples or Egyptian sleep temples) were hospitals of sorts, healing a variety of ailments, perhaps many of them psychological in nature.

The treatment involved chanting, placing the patient into a trance-like or hypnotic state, an altered state of consciousness, leading to sleep with dreams. Because of this, sleep temples are regarded by some as the origin of what is today called Hypnosis.

The dreams were then analysed in order to determine treatment. Meditation, fasting, baths and sacrifices to the patron deity or other spirits were often involved as well.

This can be seen as early Psychotherapy.

Hypnosis is a state of human consciousness involving focused attention, reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion. The term hypnosis is credited to James Braid, a Scottish surgeon who, in 1854, used the word to describe a trance-like state that resembled sleep. He derived the word from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. James Braid is thought of as the first hypnotherapist, and is called the Father of Hypnosis.

A person who is hypnotized displays certain unusual behaviour characteristics and propensities, compared with a non-hypnotized subject, most notably heightened suggestibility and responsiveness.

Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy used to create subconscious change in a patient in the form of new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviours or feelings. It is undertaken with a subject in hypnosis.

The text above, with illustrative photos, is available, free, byrequest to


*Copyright 2016: The Huntly Centre.

Disclaimer: All material in the website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.

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