Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/509

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
505
RESEARCH IN MEDICINE

is, is obtained from the cuneiform inscriptions which record the Babylonic-Assyrian civilization. These records are of a medicine controlled by the priesthood, closely linked to astrology and characterized by a belief in the influence of metaphysical forces, gods and demons. They do, however, contain references to the use of the knife in surgery, the healing of fractures and the internal administration of herbs, but all essential therapy is obscured by mysticism, ritual observances and magical formula. From the point of view of diagnosis, it is of interest that these records refer to the inspection of the urine and blood and to the collection of a series of observations upon disease, what we would now call the "clinical history" or record of a patient. These, however, were taken, not as to-day to aid in the diagnosis, but had the value of omens to aid the priest in his prophecy as to the outcome of the illness, or as we would say to aid prognosis. Such records were of little value, for without a knowledge of pathology—that is, of the underlying anatomical changes responsible for the symptoms—they were on the same level as astrological speculation and the interpretation of dreams. Inferences were not drawn from the empirical facts of clinical observations, but all observations were interpreted in the light of the supernatural, the ritualistic and the magical. This veil we find over all ancient medicine.

Egyptian medicine of a period 2,000 B.C. was much the same as the Assyrian, but the priestly science, as taught in the schools of the temples, developed a considerable knowledge of botany and zoology, without, however, an insight into the structure and functions of the human body. An extensive materia medica allowed the use of medicines as draughts, electuaries, gargles, snuffs, inhalations, salves, plasters, poultices, injections, suppositories, enemata and fumigations. As to general surgery, there is no evidence, aside from circumcision and castration, of operations other than those for the removal of surface tumors. Yet ophthalmology, otology and dentistry were known and practised as specialties. Obstetrics, on the other hand, does not appear to have been of interest to the physician. The hygiene of the Egyptians ranked higher than their therapeutics and included definite rules concerning meat inspection, bathing, clothing, diet, care of the dwelling and of infants. Indeed there is much ground for the belief that much of our modern hygiene can be traced back through Greek and Hebrew to the pioneer work of the ancient Egyptians.

Persian medicine is of little moment and differs but slightly from that of other ancient peoples in its religious-hygienic measures. One phase of religious belief was disastrous for the development of even simple empiricism—the belief that the dead and the diseased were unclean. Such a view naturally made impossible the study of anatomy and diagnosis. The sick, as unclean, were isolated, washed and purified