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<![endif]>S. Safford Ackerly, M.D. (1)
Read at the Innominate Society
Dec. 14, 1965



            To set foot on the Island of Cos, the birthplace of Hippocrates, is an experience in historical perspective temporally and spatially.  Here the figure of Hippocrates (7) stands out half way between the dawn of recorded history and our time.  The giant Sequoia trees (10) of California had already gotten a good start in height and girth.  The Trojan Wars to him were as far back as the Crusades to us.  The cradles of civilization were not far away, the Mesopotamian to the east, the Egyptian to the south.  This little island nestled close to the Asia-Minor mainland was part of Greek Ionia of that day.

            To be sure medicine as practiced in these oldest of cultures was known to Hippocrates permeated as it was with superstition, magic, astrology and priestly rites.  Indeed some forms of magical rites were still seen in the Greek temples to Asklepios at Epidaurus by the sea, Croton in southern Italy, Trikala in Thessaly, and Knidos in Asia-Minor (2).  At Cos, however, one cannot but believe that rational medicine replaced magic long before it did at Epidaurus.

            The “Father of Medicine” was born in 460 B.C. at the zenith of the Golden Age of Greece when Pericles came to power, seven years before the birth of Socrates.  It seems fairly certain that he practiced in Cos, Thrace, Macedonia and Thessaly where he died around 377 B.C. (13).  He was an adolescent when the Parthenon was being built.  It is of interest that Herodotus, the “Father of History”, was also born in 460 B.C. in nearby Halakarnarsos, in Greek Ionia across the water, and Pythagoras on the Island of Samos to the north though a century earlier.

            Progress in medicine as in philosophy was due in part to the restless intellectual activity of the Greek mind and its struggle to free itself not only from magic and superstition but from the more subtle a priori systems of philosophical thought in favor inductive reasoning from direct observation.  Thus was born the experimental scientific method.  Major (13) quotes Goethe “The writings that have come down to under the name of Hippocrates present the model of how man should view the world and record what was seen without intruding himself into it”. 

            The urge of the Hellenes toward excellence in all matters included of course, a deep concern for health itself as reflected in their emphasis on physical culture and athletic skills.  But the development of the mind and spirit of man was never neglected in their health centers.  Their imposing settings, the beauty of their temples and works of art, the amphitheatres for emotional and intellectual satisfactions, athletic stadia all combined to treat the whole man with an eye toward healthy functioning as well as the accurate descriptions of symptoms and the treatment of disease.  This was part of the Greek miracle and came to flower in the genus of Hippocrates, liberating medicine from the occult expounder of the natural causes of disease, and honored since by each succeeding generation of physicians.

            Today he is being honored again on the Island of Cos, his birthplace where a modern medical center is being erected in his name.  This little publicized project, initiated by Greek physicians was established officially as The International Hippocratic Foundation of Cos. (11).  The cornerstone was laid Nov. 25, 1962, by H.R.H. Crown Prince Constantine, in the presence of distinguished representatives of many countries, of the Greek Parliament and other Greek officials.  A wreathed youth flanked on his right by the goddess Hygeia, and on the left by the goddess Panacea, read aloud the Oath of Hippocrates.

            First let us describe this new medical center, its structure and function, and internal regulation as adopted by the International Executive Council of the Foundation on Oct. 29, 1960 and May 31, 1962 respectively.  The history of its ancient counterpart will then be given followed by a brief background data on Hippocrates, his era, and the significance of the new Center for our time.

            On a visit to the ancient Asklepieion on Cos in early summer of 1964, a new building under construction was discovered near the ruins half way up the Eastern slope of Mt. Kromedon, but far enough away, approximately half a mile, so as not to build over any important relics of the old center.  There was a large reinforced concrete platform covering the first floor of a proposed new building.  A poster in the basement outlined the function of the building as part of the Foundation’s activities.  The architect’s sketch was received later and is included here.  It was hoped that enough of the building would be completed by 1965 to hold the First International Medical-Surgical Hippocratic Conference here, at which the head of the Hellenic State would award the first Hippocratic prize for some outstanding contribution.

            In the Official Statutes of the Foundation are stated the following aims and purposes:

(a)          Cultivation of the ideals of medicine as conceived and applied by Hippocrates 25 centuries ago.

(b)         The humanization of medical practice among doctors of medicine and allied professions.

(c)          Publication of the works of Hippocrates and manuscripts of historical importance concerning Hippocratic medicine.

(d)         Founding of hospitals, clinical and research institutes, independent of or attached to the I.H.F.C.

(e)          To further the medical education of students, teachers, and practitioners regardless of race, nationality or sex, and the classical education of those investigators interested in the archaeological treasures of Cos.

(f)           To promote and organize meetings for all physicians every five years to be called the International Medical Congress (International Olympiad) to discuss events of the moment, environmental medicine and ideas of the Hippocratic School relating to cosmic conditions.

(g)          The presentation of a prize by the Hellenic State for the best studies concerning medical progress in general and Hippocratic science in particular.

(h)          Gradual reestablishment of the ancient medical school at Cos with its international character.

The above aims of the Foundation are to be attained by:

a)            A central Hellenic building comprising drawing rooms, assembly rooms, a library, conference rooms, offices, a dining hall, and twenty bedrooms with every comfort.  This will include an inner courtyard with lawns and trees and facilities for an open-air restaurant and small theatre.  Total area purchased — 185,000 square metres.

b)            Construction by other countries of a national pavilion with offices and bedrooms.

c)            Gradual improvements of the present hospital at Cos to include specialized services and laboratories.

d)            To cooperate with hospitals, clinics, and institutes of other countries.


Membership in the Foundation

            Any doctor who is a graduate of an accredited school of medicine as well as other graduates (of literature, history, chemistry, physics, biology, law, archeology, and polytechnic schools) may become members.  Founding members are those who participated in its creation in August 1960.

            Membership fee is 150 drachmas or 5 dollars a year.

                        Administration and Operation of the I.H.F.C.

            The Foundation will be administered by an International General Committee and the International Executive Committee.  The former is composed of (1) The Professor of the History of Medicine or, in default, by the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine or by the President of the National Society of the History of Medicine of each nation.  (2) The President of the International Society of the History of Medicine.  (3) Mayor and President of the Medical Society of Cos.  (4) Four classical Greek scholars.  (5) Four members chosen at the general meeting.

            The Executive Committee is selected from members of the General Committee and shall be composed of a president, two vice-presidents, a secretary-general, and a treasurer.  The president and the secretary-general shall always be of Hellenic nationality.  To serve for the first five years the founders elected Professor Spyridon Oeconomos President, N. Grigoriou and John Coutsocheras Vice-Presidents, P. Panayotou Secretary-General, and L. Loucopoulos Treasurer.  The Executive Committee will be empowered to conduct all the affairs of the Foundation between meetings of the General Committee.  The term of office is five years.  Official languages are English, French, German, Greek, Spanish and Italian.


            The agenda for each meeting will be prepared by the Secretary-General of the Congress.  Twenty-five minutes will be allowed for each paper including ten minutes for discussion.  Papers cannot exceed six typewritten pages of 25 lines each, except with the approval of the executive board of the Congress.  Proceedings will be published and all members will receive one copy free.  Contributions should reach the Secretary-General of the Congress not later than six months before the beginning of the next Congress.

Founding of the I.H.F.C.

            Credit for the conception, growth and development of the new medical center idea is given to such men as Professor Skevos from Calymos, Dr. V Verghis and Dr. Manos Carzis, natives of the Dodecanese, and a Greek American who made the first contributions of $2,000 through an Athens newspaper for this purpose.  In 1955, Professor Spyridon Oeconomos, President of the International Congress of Urology held in Athens and Cos, made an appeal to the members of the Congress and to the physicians throughout the world for the support of this enterprise.

            In sketching briefly the history of the ancient Asklepieion as it has come down to us since the fifth century B.C., the time-table (Zeit-tafel) at the end of Rudolf Herzog’s book, a classic on Cos (5), will be followed here for the most part.  He uses data mostly from his own excavations and field work over a period from 1898 to 1907, but also from inscriptions gathered from by Paton (17), around 1888, though he is careful to quote prior visitors to the island back thru the years.  Ralph Major’s interesting little book on Cos (13) has also been helpful.  Professor Sudhoff’s account should not be missed. (21) For atmosphere the historical novel on Hippocrates by Wilder Penfield, “The Torch” (18) accomplishes its mission.

            For reorientation concerning the Island of Cos itself, “It lies in the southeastern part of the Aegean Sea as one of the Dodecanese group off the Asia Minor now Turkish peninsular Bodrum.  In 1947 the population of the island was 20,000 (18,000 in Cos).  It is about twenty-five miles long and six miles wide.  The island changed hands many times until its capture by the Turks in 1523.  It was occupied by Italy in 1912 during the Turko-Italian War and ceded to Italy in 1924.  Sovereignty was finally returned to Greece in 1947.”  Encyclopedia Americana.

            In Homer’s day Cos is mentioned as “thickly populated and an ally of Greece”.  The Doric invaders around 900 B.C. either conquered or mixed with the Carians from Asia-Minor.  There were a number of temples of Asklepios on the island according to Sudhoff (22) where Hippocrates’ case histories were preserved.  Remains of a temple of Asklepios built on the isthmus near the village of Cephalos in the direction of the acropolis awaits further excavations.

            The island of Cos was also the birthplace of Apelles the 4th century Greek painter, and Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) born in 309 B.C.  The latter brought the Museum and Library at Alexandria, founded by his father, to a position of great importance in the ancient world.  It was on Cos where Theocritus wrote his “Idylls”, and Herondas (4) his “Mimes”.  Paton and Hicks (17) in their “Inscriptions of Kos”, and Herzog (5) quote Herondas from a 3rd century B.C.