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Functional Neuroanatomy in the Pre-Hippocratic Era: Observations from the Iliad of Homer

Sahlas, Demetrios J. M.D., M.Sc.


OBJECTIVE: To describe observations of neurological significance made in the Iliad of Homer and to interpret these relative to pre-Hippocratic concepts of health and disease in Ancient Greece.

METHODS: English translations of the Iliad were analyzed for references of neurological significance, and the Homeric Greek was subsequently reviewed for accuracy. Findings are discussed in the context of ancient Greek ideas regarding anatomy and physiology, early descriptions and conceptualizations of the nervous system, ancient Greek theories concerning illness and disease, and the practice of medicine in the pre-Hippocratic era.

RESULTS: Descriptions of injuries sustained by soldiers fighting in the Trojan War represent some of the earliest case histories of neurotrauma. Passages in the Iliad describe immediate death after penetrating head trauma with injury to the brain or the brainstem, make reference to clinical signs of brain injury, and mention neurological signs and symptoms after damage to the spinal cord, brachial plexus, and peripheral nerves.

CONCLUSION: The Iliad of Homer contains many descriptions of traumatic injury to the nervous system and provides us with 3000-year-old references to some of the basic principles of functional neuroanatomy.

Montreal Neurological Hospital, McGill University Health Centre, Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Received, August 4, 2000.

Accepted, January 25, 2001.

Reprint requests: Demetrios J. Sahlas, M.D., M.Sc., Department of Neurology, Montreal Neurological Hospital, 3801 University Street, Montréal, PQ, H3A 2B4, Canada. Email:

Copyright © by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons