The Hippocratic Oath is one of the most widely regarded ancient texts and is foundational to examining ancient Greek medical practices, morals, and beliefs. It was thought to be composed around 400 BC and has been translated and interpreted in many forms since. The document, although named after Hippocrates, is likely a compilation of multiple physicians who were interested and built on the medical research of Hippocrates.
The oath is not a text of instruction, but instead a set of guidelines that a physician is expected to follow for proper and appropriate treatment of a patient. The central tenets of this oath include “practicing medicine to the best of one’s ability, sharing knowledge with other physicians, employing sympathy, compassion, and understanding, respecting the privacy of patients and helping to prevent disease whenever possible.”
The composure of the Hippocratic Oath tells much about ancient Greek society and shows that it was not just a civilization focused on science, treatment, and surgery at any cost, but instead one that strove to uphold a moral code when regarding each patient and ailment. Below is a section of the Oath, as translated by Francis Adams, a Scottish medical doctor, and translator of ancient Greek, in 1849:
“I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous…With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art. I will not cut persons laboring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves.”
Even today, medical schools and physicians use a model of the Hippocratic Oath to enforce a standard of ethical care. It is, of course, modified and abridged to better fit the modern time, but it still functions with its original intent.