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As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm.

Hippocrates (Ἱπποκράτης) of Kos (c. 460 BC - 377 BC) was an ancient Greek physician who is referred to as the "father of medicine."


Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult.
  • As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm.
    • Epidemics, Book I, Ch. 2, Full text online at Wikisource
    • Variant translation: The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.
    • Paraphrased variants:
      • Wherever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.
        • Viking Book of Aphorisms : A Personal Selection (1988) by W. H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger, p. 213
      • Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.
        • Therapeutic Chair Massage (2005) by Ralph R. Stephens, p. 32
  • Time is that wherein there is opportunity, and opportunity is that wherein there is no great time. Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. However, knowing this, one must attend to medical practice not primarily to plausible theories, but to experience combined with reason. For a theory is a composite memory of things apprehended with sense perception.
    • Precepts, Ch. 1, as translated by W. H. S. Jones (1923)
  • Conclusions which are merely verbal cannot bear fruit, only those do which are based on demonstrated fact. For affirmation and talk are deceptive and treacherous. Wherefore one must hold fast to facts in generalizations also, and occupy oneself with facts persistently, if one is to acquire that ready and infallible habit which we call "the art of medicine."
    • Precepts, Ch. 2, as translated by W. H. S. Jones (1923)
  • Everything in excess is opposed to nature.
    • As quoted in Catholic Morality : Selected Sayings and Some Account of Various Religions (1915) by E Comyns Durnford, p. 90
  • To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.
    • As quoted in A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources (1942) by H. L. Mencken


Full text online at Wikisource
Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.
  • Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate.
    • 1:1, Variant translation: Art is long; life is short; opportunity is fleeting; judgement is difficult; experience is deceitful. Compare: "The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne", Geoffrey Chaucer, The Assembly of Fowles, line 1.
  • For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.
    • 1:6; Variant translations:
    • Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases. Compare: "A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy", Guy Fawkes, in admitting to the Gunpowder Plot; "Diseases desperate grown / By desperate appliance are relieved, / Or not at all", William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act iv, Scene 3; "For a desperate disease a desperate cure", Michel de Montaigne, The Custom of the Isle of Cea, Chapter iii.
  • Sleep and watchfulness, both of them, when immoderate, constitute disease.
    • 7:72
  • Those diseases which medicines do not cure, iron cures; those which iron cannot cure, fire cures; and those which fire cannot cure, are to be reckoned wholly incurable.
    • 7:87
    • Variant translation: What cannot be cured by medicaments is cured by the knife, what the knife cannot cure is cured with the searing iron, and whatever this cannot cure must be considered incurable.

The Law

Francis Adams translation (1849) online at Wikisource
Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; and it is not lawful to import them to the profane until they have been initiated in the mysteries of the science.
  • Medicine is of all the Arts the most noble; but, owing to the ignorance of those who practice it, and of those who, inconsiderately, form a judgment of them, it is at present far behind all the other arts. Their mistake appears to me to arise principally from this, that in the cities there is no punishment connected with the practice of medicine (and with it alone) except disgrace, and that does not hurt those who are familiar with it. Such persons are like the figures which are introduced in tragedies, for as they have the shape, and dress, and personal appearance of an actor, but are not actors, so also physicians are many in title but very few in reality.
    • 1
  • A natural talent is required; for, when Nature opposes, everything else is in vain; but when Nature leads the way to what is most excellent, instruction in the art takes place, which the student must try to appropriate to himself by reflection, becoming an early pupil in a place well adapted for instruction. He must also bring to the task a love of labor and perseverance, so that the instruction taking root may bring forth proper and abundant fruits.
    • 2
  • It is time which imparts strength to all things and brings them to maturity.
    • 3
  • Timidity betrays want of powers, and audacity a want of skill. There are, indeed, two things, knowledge and opinion, of which the one makes its possessor really to know, the other to be ignorant.
    • 4
  • Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons; and it is not lawful to import them to the profane until they have been initiated in the mysteries of the science.
    • 5

Oath of Hippocrates (c. 400 BC)

Francis Adams translation online
  • I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation — to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others.
    • Variant translation: I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant ...
      • As translated in The Hippocratic Oath : Text, Translation, and Interpretation (1943) , by Ludwig Edelstein
  • 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. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion.
  • With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art.
  • 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.
  • Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret.
  • While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!


  • He who does not understand astrology is not a doctor but a fool.
  • I approve of theorizing if it lays its foundation in incident, and deduces its conclusions in accordance with phenomena.
  • Idleness and lack of occupation tend — nay are dragged — towards evil.
  • If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.
  • It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.
  • Keep a watch also on the faults of the patients, which often make them lie about the taking of things prescribed.
  • Let your food be medicine and your medicine be food.
  • People believe that this disease is sacred simply because they don't know what causes it? But some day I believe they will, and the moment they figure out why people have epilepsy, it will cease to be considered divine.
  • Prayer indeed is good, but while calling on the gods a man should himself lend a hand.
  • Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance.
  • There are, in fact, two things: science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.
  • Walking is man's best medicine.
  • War is the only proper school of the surgeon.

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