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History

Greek public health

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Public health is about avoiding the spread of disease within a particular society - often through providing water to help people keep themselves, their animals and their surroundings clean. The Greek city states did not do this, but the Greek people nevertheless had strong ideas about how to stay healthy.

Overview

The Greeks did not have an extensive public health system, so there were no sewers and no supplies of running water.

Many rich Greeks, however, followed a programme for health. This included keeping themselves at an even temperature, eating properly, washing themselves, cleaning their teeth, going for walks and keeping fit. This was closely linked to their theory of the four humours [Four humours: Four bodily fluids - yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm - used in ancient times to analyse and describe people's state of health. ], and changed according to the season. In addition, Pythagoras's theory of the balance of opposites led Greek doctors to advocate 'moderation in all things'.

Hippocrates accepted that ordinary people would be too busy or too poor to follow such a regime, and would therefore be less healthy.

While medicine was still in its early stages, people continued to appeal to the gods for healing at the asklepion [Asklepion: Healing centre of the ancient Greeks, based around a belief in the god Asklepios. People would stay there when they were ill. ]. As time went on, however, these places also became health resorts, with facilities such as a gymnasium, an athletics stadium and baths.

Ruins of the Asklepion of Kos, a temple for the worship of Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. Thought to have been the world's first hospital.

Ruins of the Asklepion of Kos, a temple for the worship of Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. Thought to have been the world's first hospital.

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