The Healing Art in the Iliad

Part of the History of Mechanism and Machine Science book series (HMMS, volume 6)

The oldest sources of information about Hellenic medicine are the two Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey (7th–8th century BC). Iliad provides an unforgettable picture of army surgery and anatomy at the time of Trojan War in Asia Minor. It contains realistic descriptions of wounds and injuries of widely differing types. According to a careful statistical analysis [1] the overall mortality rate due to traumatic lesions was 77.6%. The most dangerous wounds were sword and spear thrusts and the less dangerous ones those inflicted by arrows. It is obvious that in Greek expeditionary force, apart from the amateur surgeons, were also professional healers, skilled in the extraction of embedded weapons, the arrest of hemorrhage and the relief of suffering. The most eminent professional healers were the two sons of the god of healing art Asclepius, Machaon and Podaleirius, famous for their skill as healers, straddling the fine line between professionalism and amateurism. Through their medical knowledge they occupy a special place in healing art and are called “ïetroi” (physicians). In the Homeric world, a physician “ïatros” was a respected figure performing no heroic deeds other than medical caring and healing art.


Amateur Surgeon Battle Wound Heroic Deed Homeric Epic Combat Wound 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Frölich, H., Die Militärmedizin Homers, Stuttgart, 1879.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Poulakou-Rebelakou, E., Rebelakos, A.G. and Marketos, S.G., Urological references in the Homeric epics, in De Historia Urologiae Europaeae, J.J. Mattelaer (Ed.), 1998, Kortrijk, Belgium, pp. 249–257.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bishop, W.J., The Early History of Surgery, Robert Hale Ltd., London, 1960.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Edelstein, E.J. and Edelstein, L., Asclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, Vol. 2, John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1945.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Horstmanshoff, H.F.J., The ancient physician: Craftsman or scientist?, J. Hist. Med. 45, 1990, 176–197.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bailey, J.E., Asklepius: Ancient hero of medical care, Ann. Intern. Med. 124, 1996, 257–263.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Iliopoulos, S., The traumatology of the Trojan war, Hellenic Surgical Orthopedics and Trau-matology, Gr. 43(2), 1992, 60–73.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Godquin, B., Homère était-il chirurgien?, Chirurgie 116, 1990, 136–147.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Athens University Medical SchoolAthensGreece

Personalised recommendations