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History of Science Alexandria Library

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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 5: Hellenistic Science

Topic 2: Hellenistic medicine

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
3 Thursday
11:59 p.m.

Topic2 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The second of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

The study questions will help you assess your knowledge; print them out and complete them as you read.


  1. Watch the “From the vault: Hellenistic Medicine” video prompt for this assignment.
  2. Share your thoughts in the Discussion.
  3. Read the following pages about Hellenistic medicine:
    1. Hippokrates of Kos
    2. Herophilos of Chalcedon, d. ca. 250 BC
    3. Erasistratos of Keos, b. ca. 304 BC
    4. “What is nature? How is nature known?”
  4. Background readings for this week come entirely from one of your textbooks: David Lindberg, Beginnings of Western Science.
    1. If you have the 2007 edition, read the following pages: Chapter 4 (all), Chapter 6 (pp. 111-124; excluding the section on Galen).
    2. Or, if you have the 1992 edition, read the following pages: Chapter 4 (all), Chapter 6 (pp. 112-124; excluding the section on Galen).
  5. Quiz: Afterwards, take a Topic 2 quiz over Hellenistic medicine in the assignments area of Janux. The quiz will be composed of 12 of the true/false questions listed in the Study Guide. Topic 2 quizzes must be completed before Thursday night at 11:59 p.m.


TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, 2 points each.

  1. Alexander the Great established an empire that reached from Spain in its westernmost extent all the way to Jerusalem on its eastern border.
  2. Zeno of Citium founded the Stoic school of philosophy in Athens.
  3. After the death of Alexander the Great, one of his generals named Ptolemy ruled Egypt.
  4. The Museum of Alexandria was both a religious shrine and a place of learning, founded by a former member of Aristotle’s Lyceum.
  5. At its peak, the Library of Alexandria was said to contain nearly half a million scrolls.
  6. The second head of the Lyceum, Theophrastus, rejected Aristotle’s empirical approach and renounced the pursuit of natural sciences such as botany and mineralogy, favoring the study of pure logic instead.
  7. The third head of the Lyceum, Strato, demonstrated from a stream of falling water that heavy bodies accelerate as they descend.
  8. Epicurus, founder of the Epicurean school, taught that bodies are made of particles (corpuscles or atoms) with intervening void spaces.
  9. The philosophy of Epicurus was deterministic, in the sense that it postulated that all events have a mechanistic cause.
  10. Both Stoics and Epicureans advocated the study of science (natural philosophy) as an aid to ethics.
  11. Stoics argued that the cosmos is like a piece of mechanical clockwork, passive and inert.
  12. According to the Stoics, there is a dichotomy (radical distinction) between the sub-lunar (terrestrial) and supra-lunar (celestial) regions.
  13. According to the Stoics, there is an eternal cycle of worlds, constantly generating and dissolving, in a purposeful and determined sequence.
  14. The Epicureans defended teleology and viewed the universe as an organism.
  15. A temple of healing at Epidaurus was a center of hundreds of Greek temples devoted to Asclepius, whom Homer regarded as a great physician.
  16. The Hippocratic corpus is a collection of about 70 treatises all of which were written by Hippocrates of Cos.
  17. Most Hippocratic writings, such as On the Sacred Disease, de-emphasize divine intervention as a direct cause of specific cases of illness, attributing the course of nature itself to the divine.
  18. Hippocratic medicine often attributed disease to imbalances of the four humors, where treatments of diet, exercise and purgings were designed to restore a proper balance.
  19. Instead of using medicines derived from plants, most Hippocratic medicines were chemical in origin, such as mercury or arsenic.
  20. Hippocratic writers all agreed that a theoretical understanding of the causes of disase is essential to effective treatment.
  21. According to Roman authors, anatomists in Alexandria conducted human vivisections (dissections of living prisoners).
  22. In Alexandria, Herophilus of Chalcedon advanced anatomy by drawing clear distinctions between sensory and motor nerves, and between arteries and veins.
  23. In Alexandria, Erasistratus of Ceos, described the valves of the heart and argued that they function by ensuring that blood flows only one direction through the heart.
  24. “Empiricists” opposed Herophilus and Erasistratus by arguing that human dissection should be forbidden, because past experience provides a more reliable foundation for medicine than the study of human anatomy and physiology.


Do you have a great quote for this page? Let me know! (If used, a new quote is worth 1 point extra credit)

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux