How did Ancient Greeks care for their bodies and manage their nutrition? How did they approach the question of public health? What did an athlete do if he got injured 2,500 years ago? Did surgical instruments exist? How were opium, other pharmaceutical substances and herbs used?
You can expect to find the answer to these questions at Hygieia: Health, Illness and Treatment from Homer to Galen, the very interesting new exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, set to run until Sunday, May 31, 2015.
From the dawn of its existence, humanity has strived to improve all aspects of living conditions. Achieving and maintaining good health, seeking to understand the causes of diseases and searching for solutions to fight and treat illnesses have been a primary concern and interest throughout all time periods.
Ceramic vase depicting a scene of medical treatment 480-470 B.C in Paris, from the Louvre Museum — Photo courtesy of RMN- Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Stéphane Maréchalle
The Museum of Cycladic Art presents the major archaeological exhibition Hygieia: Health, Illness and Treatment from Homer to Galen, focusing on the universal subject of health and providing an overview of the evolution of ancient medical practices. Take, for example, the transition from magico-religious healing practices to rational, scientific medicine.
The exhibition presents approximately 300 artifacts, with the participation of 41 international museums, including the Louvre, the British Museum, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and also the Capitoline Museums.
The oldest written sources of the history of Greek medicine are the epic works of Homer, which clearly reveal that the Greeks of the Heroic Age linked sickness and disease with the supernatural, regarding them as manifestations of the wrath of the gods.
To appease the gods, they employed prayers, purifications and even animal sacrifices. Even the idea of health (hygieia) was personified as a wonderful goddess usually accompanied by a snake, the symbol of therapy.
By the late sixth century BC, however, philosophy came to exercise a powerful influence upon the development of medicine. Hippocrates and the classical Greeks were the first to evolve rational systems of medicine free from magical and religious elements, realizing that maintaining good health and fighting disease depend on natural causes.
This fascinating exhibition presents three main subjects: health, illness and treatment, covering the era from 1200 B.C. to the third century A.D.
Objects on display include archaeological objects unveiling the ways hygiene was treated in antiquity, ranging from athletics to personal hygiene. There are also objects depicting the ideal mode of life, related to personal hygiene as well as public health.
Physical, mental as well as collective illnesses are depicted in marble motif reliefs and terracotta figurines. Then, vases and marble reliefs depict Homeric heroes and the treatment of their wounds.