EPILEPSY IN A HISTORICAL CONTEXT
RESPONSE FROM THE ACCIDENTAL HISTORIAN
Scholars agree that Hippocratic and religious medicine coexisted in classical Greece. Some Hippocratic medicine was practiced in the Asclepieions, though the bulk of it was practiced in the marketplace rather than the temple. Hippocratic practitioners held to an expressly naturalistic conception of the cause of disease, and denied the contention that direct divine action caused what was called the sacred disease.
I agree with Dr. Todman that the concept of the divine was, and is, compatible with scientific medicine, and that the Hippocratic physicians were not questioning traditional religion per se. The author of the Hippocratic text The Sacred Disease held conventional religious beliefs and respected the gods, though he does not comment on their ability to cure disease. My essay does not argue otherwise.
I do claim that Hippocratic physicians deny the belief that epilepsy, or any disease, is caused by divine retribution for personal failing. I am sure that Dr. Todman joins me, and all Hippocratic physicians, in asserting that the explicit invocation of divine power is incompatible with scientific therapeutics. Patients and doctors may believe what they will about the relationship between science and the supernatural, but medicine must stick to the natural world if it is to remain credible as science. In my view, this is the point of The Sacred Disease, and it is a point that is relevant to accidental historians today.
George K. York, III, MD