Greek Medicine Was Fundamentally Changed by Its Encounter with Islamic Culture.’ Is This Statement Accurate?

‘Greek medicine was fundamentally changed by its encounter with Islamic culture.’ Is this statement accurate?

The expansion of empires or cultures across new lands will always impact on the daily lives of a conquered population. Religious, social, political and economic differences may change the fundamental elements of society. Arguably, one the most important of these is medical practice. With the expansion of the Islamic world across the ancient Hellenistic empire in 750 CE the adoption of the Greek, Hippocratic humoural medical system was one that changed the Islamic approach to medicine fundamentally. This essay will discuss whether the cultural encounter fundamentally changed existing Greek medical theory. To understand this properly we will discuss and define the Greek medical fundamentals, examine whether the translation process had a large enough impact to change fundamentals and whether the Islamic culture itself was unable to adopt all the Greek ideas, in their original form, based on the strict Muslim cultural code.

Although there have been many significant Greek practitioners including Galen of Pergamum and others, “the most influential theory was devised by Hippocrates” (Brunton p. 151). It was his humoural medical theory that will define ‘Greek medicine’ for this essay. ‘Hippocratic medicine was based on four humours: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm... the humours exhibited four fundamental qualities – they are hot, cold, wet or dry... a healthy body was one in which the different humours were in balance... summed up in one of the Hippocratic texts:
Health is when these constituents [the humours] are in due proportion to one another... Pain is experienced whenever one of these is deficient or in excess or isolated in the body and is not blended with all the others.’ (Quoted in Nutton, 2004, p. 82), (Brunton p.152-153).      
Disease ‘was treated with drugs, diet and changes in lifestyle’ to reflect the balance in humour. From...