History in Medicine

Plinio Prioreschi, MD, PhD
Article Type: 
Winter 1997
Volume Number: 
Issue Number: 

Dear Dr. Faria,

Thank you for your letter of August 3. I doubt I will be able to meet the deadline of September 15 for my paper on the Hippocratic Oath for Medical Sentinel as I will leave for Greece (to attend the International Congress for the History of Medicine) toward the end of this month and I will not return until close to the middle of September. It was to the same congress in Glasgow two years ago, by the way, that I presented the paper on the [Hippocratic] Oath that was subsequently published by Medical Hypotheses and by the Proceedings of the Congress.

I appreciate the information that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Roe v. Wade decision, took into account the claim that the Oath was a Pythagorean document...[and it is very interesting that] in Evans v. Romer, the Colorado Court took into account the alleged common acceptance of homosexuality in ancient Greece.

Concerning the translation of Scribonius Largus’ humanitatis, I assume you refer to the passage: ...medicis, in quibus nisi plenum misericordiae et humanitatis animus est secundum ipsius professionis voluntatem, omnibus diis et hominibus invisi esse debent. I agree with you that to translate humanitatis with humanism may lead to confusion and that humanitarianism, or compassion, would be more appropriate. In my forthcoming book on Roman Medicine (the third volume of my History of Medicine), in fact, I translate the passage as follows: “All men and Gods, in fact, should despise any physician whose heart is not full of humanity and mercy according to the purpose of his profession.” I am sorry I cannot comment on this subject as discussed in your book because I do not have a copy of it and our library does not have one either. I will get one, however, and I am looking forward to reading it...

Plinio Prioreschi, MD, PhD
Creighton University
Omaha, NE

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 1997;2(1):1. 

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Comments on this post

Family Physician

In medical diagnosis and treatment, the family physician has not only compassion but also other options, such as advise as to proper nutrition and avoiding food additives, and when all fails psychological therapy and hypnosis.

Socialized medicine—social justice?

Primary care is an important function of the medical profession. I believe there are too many specialists in the fields. Primary care doctors are needed in the rural areas to improve access to medical care. The cost of health care remains a problem in the U.S. and may have to be rationed by the government. Socialized medicine is one way to establish social justice.

Thanks for your courtesy!

I'm not a doctor but I'm thankful that I can get such useful information on medicine and health from your website. Your website is a great benefit to your readers and I for one appreciate your work.

This is a great blog with excellent posts

This is a great blog with excellent posts and links. I was delighted to find your website and read some of your articles on medical history. I am glad to see that people are actually writing about medical history in such an intelligent manner, showing us all different sides to it.

My company teaches students constructive writing, and I will use your website as an example. Thank you for your contributions and for your excellent website.


Greeks– humanism, abortion, homosexuality...

I appreciate this letter of clarification about the ancient Greeks attitudes about abortion (Hippocrates), homosexuality and humanism vs. humanitarianism in medical history. Dr Plinio Prioreschi is a knowledgeable physician. Thank you for posting it.

Abortion, homosexuality and the courts

Dr Plinio Prioreschi, a graduate of the famous University of Pavia, is a great physician, scientist and Medical history scholar with whom I had the great pleasure of collaborating with in medical history publications a number of years ago. I recommend two articles by him posted in this website.

1) "In the Foreword of the second volume of our work, A History of Medicine, we expressed the hope that the Foreword of the third would deal with more inspiring themes. Alas, this is not to be. In the last four years we have found no improvement in the academic landscape in general and in historiography of medicine in particular. In fact, the signs of decay in our society are increasingly visible in all fields. In view of the nature of this book, we will limit our observations to medical education and medical historiography..." P.P.


The second article here is more relevant to the topics under discussion in this heading:

2) "We are all familiar with Roe v. Wade and no matter what our feelings about abortion may be, we all agree that the consequences of that decision of the U.S. Supreme Court were serious. We assume that all judgments of such an august body are based on wisdom and evidence from many sources and from various backgrounds so that no single element has undue influence in the process; however, it comes as a shock to realize that one of the elements that supported Roe v. Wade was false: the interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath." P.P.


Nice post keep it up!

Nice post keep it up!

A testimonial!

This is a top notch website. I hope it is OK to re-post some of your articles with attribution. It should only help your website. Great history of medicine articles!

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