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record the findings. This can also be counted as a fundamental principle of the public health


The ‘Hippocratic Corpus’ and public health

For historians the ‘Hippocratic Corpus’ is an important source of investigation and

interpretation about the teaching of Hippocrates. It consists of about seventy scripts written in

Ionic Greek and probably assembled during the 3


century BC in Alexandria (3). Among those

scripts is the one, ‘On Airs, Water and Places’. The fact that all the work compiled in the

Hippocratic Corpus could be the original work of only one man and whether the treaty about ‘On

Airs, Water and Places’ was truly written by Hippocrates is questionable, but its importance is

that all this work reflects the teaching and principles of Hippocrates. An important part for public

health in the treatise about ‘Airs, Water and Places’ reads as follows (4):

‘Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly, should proceed thus: in the first

place to consider the seasons of the year, and what effects each of them produces for they are

not at all alike, but differ much from themselves in regard to their changes. Then the winds,

the hot and the cold, especially such as are common to all

countries, and then such as are peculiar to each locality. We

must also consider the qualities of the waters, for as they

differ from one another in taste and weight, so also do they

differ much in their qualities. In the same manner, when one

comes into a city to which he is a stranger, he ought to

consider its situation, how it lies as to the winds and the

rising of the sun; for its influence is not the same whether it

lies to the north or the south, to the rising or to the setting

sun. These things one ought to consider most attentively, and

concerning the waters which the inhabitants use, whether

they be marshy and soft, or hard, and running from elevated

and rocky situations, and then if saltish and unfit for

cooking; and the ground, whether it be naked and deficient

in water, or wooded and well watered, and whether it lies in a

hollow, confined situation, or is elevated and cold; and the mode in which the inhabitants live,

and what are their pursuits, whether they are fond of drinking and eating to excess, and given

to indolence, or are fond of exercise and labor, and not given to excess in eating and


The text contains a treasure trove of hints related to environmental conditions which up to

the present day we can associate with factors influencing health and disease of populations and

are relevant to public health. There are numerous infectious diseases, mainly due to the life

cycles of their vectors, which are dependent on annual changes in climate. Hippocrates might

have observed the increase in the number of patients suffering from severe spells of fever which

might have been caused by malaria and reach a peak incidence in many endemic locations at the

second half of the rainy season. In many locations the common cold in children quite frequently

occurs during the change from the rainy season to the cold season. The importance of clean

water for preventing diarrhea is now commonly known, and we now realize that the condition of

soil determines the quality of food and in some instances even the micronutrients: one example