The Invention of Medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates

Lane Fox, Robin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History of Medicine

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-13-2022
  • Last revised: May-13-2022


The Invention of Medicine is both a scholarly history of early Greek medicine and a compelling mystery story. The “From Homer to Hippocrates” discussion (about 70 pages) is merely a prelude to the author’s main project, which is a careful analysis of the books attributed to Hippocrates of Cos. As a group, they have been associated with Hippocrates at least since the scholar Baccheios of Alexandra, writing in the 280s BCE, attributed them to him. The Roman physician Galen (about 170 CE) considered them products of a Hippocratic “school,” but believed they were written by many different authors, including in some cases, the great Hippocrates himself.  

The book’s highpoint is the author’s carefully reasoned hypothesis that the historical Hippocrates wrote the texts we now know as books 1 and 3 of the Epidemics, based on his practice experience in Thasos between 471 and 467 BCE. Other parts of the Epidemics were written by physicians up to several generations later who emulated Hippocrates’ naturalistic approach. The works identified as the “Hippocratic corpus” were grouped together as early as the 280s BCE as representing the school of Hippocrates because of their naturalistic, pragmatic, and ethical contents,  


This is an exhilarating book from the historical detection point of view. The author presents a plausible case that Hippocrates himself wrote books 1 and 3 of the Epidemics but admits that the evidence is far from conclusive. However, evidence that the cases discussed in these books represent the practice of a single physician on the island of Thasos is much stronger.  

The Invention of Medicine is not a popular history, although it is engagingly written. There is a great deal of detailed historical data and analysis. Overall, a difficult, but rewarding read for anyone interested in the origins of the Hippocratic tradition in medicine.


Basic Books

Place Published

New York



Page Count