On the style of Epidemics 6, Wesley Smith (who translated the text for the Loeb Classical Library) writes:
“[The Epidemics] are technical prose from a time when prose was coming into being and authors were realizing its potential: unique jottings by medical people in the process of creating the science of medicine.”
Hippocrates VII: Epidemics 2 & 4-7, Harvard University Press, 1994, p.2
The Epidemics is a text without a model, an attempt to capture in writing the experience and practice of medicine. The style, Smith thinks, manifests this naivety. He refers to it as the text’s “innocence” — innocent from later conventions and styles that would come to characterize medical and scientific writing. This innocence makes the Epidemics (like other Hippocratic writings) quite unique; it also makes it quite difficult to read.
Later medical texts look almost nothing like the Epidemics. Medical writers pretty quickly developed standards of exposition that made their writing easier to follow, and one of the effects of this standardization was that a medical text came to be recognizable as such, a distinct form of writing with its own questions, rules, vocabulary and order.
This innovation is already evident in the fourth century, in Diocles’ writings. He had structured his writing on regimen according to times of day, with each time divided into parts dealing with appropriate foods and exercises. Writers on disease, too, began to structure their works: some, according to the location of diseases from head to toe; some, by diseases according to whether they were acute or chronic; some into sections on cause and treatment. And a standard form of medical text, called Remedies (Peri Boêthêmatôn) was developed by the Pneumatist school, which divided remedies according to the way they acted on the body.
Certainly some authors were not as clear as all this. Dioscorides’ Materia Medica (Peri Hulês) follows a notoriously obscure structure, something later authors complained about. It would have been easier, they thought, if he had ordered things alphabetically. But this just shows that doctors were thinking about the form medical writing should take, and began to adopt standards to avoid the type of obscurity we find in the Epidemics.
Epidemics 6, however, was also canonical, at least to those sympathetic to Hippocratic medicine. The style of the text may have been obscure, but most everyone who practiced Hippocratic-style medicine would have been familiar with it. And interpreting the text became a way of debating new ideas about what medicine is and how it should be practiced.
Evidence of a tradition of interpretation exists, preserved for the most part by Galen, but also in earlier authors like Dioscorides and Athenaeus and later ones like Palladius. For these Hippocratic doctors, the Epidemics could not simply be read. It needed to be deciphered. And part of the game of interpretation seems to have been to show that, whatever new idea they were promoting, the insight was already present in the writings of Hippocrates (or by showing, especially in the case of Epidemics 6, that parts of it were not by Hippocrates at all, and so could be ignored).
Now, one passage from Epidemics 6 was generally agreed to be a kind of keystone for the whole work. It is found at Epidemics 6.8.7:
“Things from the small tablet to be observed. Regimen consists in repletion and evacuation of foods and drinks. Changes of these: what from what, how it is. Odors: pleasant, noxious, filling, tempting. Changes, from what kinds of things, how they are. The pneumata that come in or go out, [solid] bodies also. Better sounds, and those that harm. And of the tongue, what things are evoked by what. Pneuma, what is hotter to the tongue, colder, thicker, thinner, dryer, wetter, filled up, less and greater. From what come changes, what out of what kinds of things, how they are. Things that contain, impart impulse, or are contained. Speech, silence, saying what one wishes. The words, what one says, either loud or many, truthful or fraudulent. (Smith trans., modified)”
τὰ ἐκ τοῦ σμικροῦ πινακιδίου σκεπτέα. δίαιτα γίνεται πλησμονῇ, κενώσει, βρωμάτων, πομάτων· μεταβολαὶ τούτων, οἷα ἐξ οἵων, ὡς ἔχει. ὀδμαὶ τέρπουσαι, λυποῦσαι, πιμπλῶσαι, πειθόμεναι· μεταβολαὶ, ἐξ οἵων οἵως ἔχουσιν. τὰ ἐσπίπτοντα, ἢ ἐξιόντα πνεύματα, ἢ καὶ σώματα. ἀκοαὶ κρείσσονες, αἱ δὲ λυποῦσαι. καὶ γλώσσης, ἐξ οἵων οἷα προκαλεῖται. πνεῦμα, τὸ ταύτη θερμότερον, ψυχρότερον, παχύτερον, λεπτότερον, ξηρότερον, ὑγρότερον, πεπληρωμένον, μεῖόν τε καὶ τὸ πλεῖον· ἀφ' ὧν αἱ μεταβολαὶ, οἷαι ἐξ οἵων, ὡς ἔχουσιν. τὰ ἴσχοντα, ἢ ὁρμῶντα, ἢ ἐνισχόμενα. λόγοι, σιγὴ, εἰπεῖν ἃ βούλεται· λόγοι, οὓς λέγει, ἢ μέγα, ἢ πολλοὶ, ἀτρεκεῖς, ἢ πλαστοί. (V 344-6 Littré)
(I’ve adopted some of the changes suggested by Smith in the Loeb text and ignored others. Notably, I’ve left out “σώματα” after “ἐνισχόμενα”, following Littré, since as Littré pointed out, no one in antiquity mentions it being there.)
This text has puzzled interpreters for a long time. It is elliptical, confident, and somewhat mysterious. But later doctors saw in it the basis of a system: a list of observations that need to be made in order to assess the health of a patient.
Two aspects of the list were to become especially important in later medical writers. One is the distinction of pneuma into hot, cold, thick, thin, wet or dry. This distinction has an interesting history that I hope to come back to. But here I want to focus on the distinction of things into “containing, imparting impulse, and contained (τὰ ἴσχοντα, ἢ ὁρμῶντα, ἢ ἐνισχόμενα).”
We have been working on tracing this distinction for a paper we’re writing on the Pneumatist school. It came to be associated with a way of understanding human physiology that would have a long influence: the division of the constituents of the body into solid parts, humours, and pneuma. It is explicitly mentioned in Galen, the pseudo-Galenic Introduction, pseudo-Alexander on Fevers. It might be in Nicolaus of Damascus On Plants. And in De causis contentivis, especially in chapter 4, Galen hints that it played some role in Pneumatist physiology and causal theory.
This left us with a bit of a puzzle. How did a distinction of the body into containing parts, parts imparting impulse, and contained parts come to be identified with solids, liquids and gases? This is far from obvious and there is nothing in the text of the Epidemics that suggests it. Why would anyone have interpreted the text this way? Why did it become widely accepted? And how is it related to other ways of describing human physiology, for example, in terms of the elements (...interesting that the distinction is absent from the Definitiones...)?
We looked through the literature, but didn’t find anything substantial. So I thought I would gather all the texts here to make them available. Some of them are still untranslated, and there are likely more texts than the ones below. I will continue to translate and add more as we find them. But hopefully it will be something of a start to sorting out how this interpretation of Epidemics 6 came about and why it became so influential.
The Pseudo-Galenic author of Introduction or The Physician
“Others say the human is in fact composed out of three compounds, as well, from wet things, dry things and pneumata. Hippocrates calls them things containing, things contained and things which impart impulse. Containing are whatever are solid bodies—bones, nerves, veins and arteries—out of which muscles, flesh, and every mass of the body are compounded, both internal and external structures. Contained are the wet things carried in the channels and scattered through the whole body, what Hippocrates calls the four humours previously mentioned. Things which impart impulse are the pneumata. According to the ancients, there are two pneumata: psychic and natural. The Stoics also add a third: hectic, which they call a state.”
οἱ δὲ ἐκ τῶν τριῶν καὶ συνθέτων τὸν ἤδη γενώμενον ἄνθρωπον ἐκ τῶνδέ φασι συγκεῖσθαι, ἔκ τε τῶν ὑγρῶν καὶ ξηρῶν καὶ πνευμάτων. καλεῖ δὲ αὐτὰ Ἱπποκράτης ἴσχοντα, ἰσχόμενα καὶ ἐνορμῶντα. ἴσχοντα μὲν οὖν ἐστιν ὅσα στερεὰ, ὀστᾶ καὶ νεῦρα καὶ φλέβες καὶ ἀρτηρίαι, ἐξ ὧν οἵ τε μύες καὶ αἱ σάρκες καὶ πᾶς ὁ τοῦ σώματος ὄγκος πέπλεκται, τῶν τε ἐντὸς καὶ τῶν ἐκτὸς τὰ συγκρίματα. ἰσχόμενα δέ ἐστι τὰ ὑγρὰ τὰ ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις ἐμφερόμενα καὶ κατὰ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα διεσπαρμένα, ἅπερ καλεῖ Ἱπποκράτης χυμοὺς τέσσαρας τοὺς προειρημένους. ἐνορμῶντα δέ ἐστι τὰ πνεύματα. πνεύματα δὲ κατὰ τοὺς παλαιοὺς δύο ἐστὶ, τό τε ψυχικὸν καὶ τὸ φυσικόν. οἱ δὲ Στωϊκοὶ καὶ τρίτον εἰσάγουσι τὸ ἑκτικὸν, ὃ καλοῦσιν ἕξιν.
[Galen] Introductio 9, 14.696.14-697.8 K
“Hippocrates, then, put forward three, saying the elements of man are things contained, containing and imparting impulse, through which he included all the elements of those who came after him, as well as elemental physiology and the aetiology of things contrary to nature. But those after him, I don't know why, divide this divine and truly Asclepian medicine into three, although it is really a unity, and they dispersed the parts that make it up. (i) Some referred only to the humours [when explaining] the composition of things according to nature and the cause of things contrary to nature, as Praxagoras and Herophilus [did]. Others posited the solid bodies as the primary and elemental things, and believed that things are composed out of these and the causes of diseases originate from them, as Erasistratus and Asclepiades [did]. And those around Athenaeus and Archigenes claim that all the natural things are created only by means of the pneuma pervading through them and that all the diseases are governed by it, because it [sc. the pneuma] is the thing affected first – for this reason they are called Pneumatists.”
Ἱπποκράτης μὲν οὖν διὰ τριῶν κεχώρηκεν, εἰπὼν στοιχεῖα ἀνθρώπου ἴσχοντα, ἰσχόμενα, ἐνορμῶντα, δι' ὧν τὰ πάντα τῶν μετ' αὐτὸν περιείληφε στοιχεῖα καὶ τὴν κατὰ στοιχείων φυσιολογίαν τε καὶ αἰτιολογίαν τῶν παρὰ φύσιν· οἱ δὲ μετ' αὐτὸν οὐκ οἶδ' ὅπως μίαν οὖσαν τὴν θείαν ταύτην καὶ ἀληθῶς Ἀσκληπιοῦ ἰατρικὴν τριχῇ διανειμάμενοι καὶ διασπάσαντες τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ συμφυῆ μέρη, οἱ μὲν μόνοις τοῖς χυμοῖς τῶν τε κατὰ φύσιν τὴν σύστασιν καὶ τῶν παρὰ φύσιν τὴν αἰτίαν ἀνέθεσαν, ὡς Πραξαγόρας καὶ Ἡρόφιλος. οἱ δὲ τὰ στερεὰ σώματα τὰ ἀρχικὰ καὶ στοιχειώδη ὑποθέμενοι, τά τε φύσει συνεστῶτα ἐκ τούτων καὶ τῶν νόσων τὰς αἰτίας ἐντεῦθεν λαμβάνουσιν, ὡς Ἐρασίστρατος καὶ Ἀσκληπιάδης· οἱ δὲ περὶ Ἀθήναιον καὶ Ἀρχιγένην μόνῳ τῷ διήκοντι δι' αὐτῶν πνεύματι καὶ τὰ φυσικὰ συνεστάναι τε καὶ διοικεῖσθαι καὶ τὰ νοσήματα πάντα, τούτου πρωτοπαθοῦντος γίνεσθαι ἀπεφήναντο, ὅθεν καὶ πνευματικοὶ χρηματίζουσι.
[Galen], Introductio 9, 698.12-699.10 K
Nicolaus of Damascus, Plants (distinct tradition?)
“A plant has three powers, the first derived from the element of earth, the second from that of water, the third from that of fire. From the earth the plant derives its growth, from water its cohesion, and from fire the union of the cohesion of the plant. We see much the same thing in vessels of pottery, which contain three elements—clay, which is, as it were, the material of pottery; secondly, water, which binds the pottery together; and, thirdly, fire, which draws its parts together, until it completes the process of manufacture.”
Τὸ δένδρον τρεῖς ἔχει δυνάμεις, πρώτην ἐκ τοῦ γένους τῆς γῆς, δευτέραν ἐκ τοῦ γένους τοῦ ὕδατος, τρίτην ἐκ τοῦ γένους τοῦ πυρός. ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς γάρ ἐστιν ἡ ἔκφυσις τῆς βοτάνης, ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος ἡ σύμπηξις, ἀπὸ τοῦ πυρὸς ἡ ἕνωσις τῆς συμπήξεως τοῦ φυτοῦ. Βλέπομεν δὲ πολλὰ τούτων καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὀστρακώδεσιν. Εἰσὶ γὰρ ἐν τούτοις τρία, πηλός, ἐξ οὗ γίνεται πλίνθος ὀστρακώδης, δεύτερον ὕδωρ, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τὸ στερεοῦν τὰ ὀστρακώδη, τρίτον τὸ πῦρ τὸ συνάγον τὰ μέρη αὐτοῦ, ἔστ’ ἂν δι‘ αὐτοῦ πληρωθείη ἡ τούτου γένεσις.
[Aristotle], De Plantis 2.1
The Pseudo-Alexandrian author of Fevers
Φανερὸν μὲν οὖν διὰ τούτων καὶ ὡς τρία μόνα τὰ ἐν ἡμῖν, ἐν οἷς ἡ παρὰ φύσιν θερμότης, μόρια, χυμοί, πνεύματα· τὰ αὐτὰ δὲ καὶ παρ' Ἱπποκράτει ἴσχοντα, ἰσχόμενα καὶ ἐνορμῶντα καλεῖται, ἴσχοντα μὲν τὰ μόρια, ἃ καὶ στερεὰ προσαγορεύεται, ἰσχόμενα δὲ οἱ χυμοί, ἐνορμῶντα δέ γε τὰ πνεύματα, ἕκαστον ἐκ τῆς ἰδίας δυνάμεως τὴν προσηγορίαν ἁρμόζουσαν εἰληφός.
Ἴσχει μὲν γὰρ καὶ κατέχει τὰ στερεά, ἐνίσχεται δὲ καὶ ἐμπεριέχεται ὑπὸ τούτων τὰ ὑγρά τε καὶ διαρρέοντα, ταὐτὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν οἱ χυμοί, ὁρμᾷ δὲ τὰ ἐν ἡμῖν πνεύματα, λεπτομερεστάτης οὐσίας ὄντα καὶ θερμοτάτης, καὶ ῥᾷστα διὰ πάντων χωροῦντα τῶν μορίων τοῦ σώματος.
[Alexander], De febribus 17.1-2
Galen, Differences of Fevers
νῦν δὲ ἀρκεῖ τό γε τοσοῦτον γινώσκειν, ὅπερ, οἶμαι, καὶ ὁ Ἱπποκράτης ἐνδεικνύμενος ἔλεγε, τὰ ἴσχοντα καὶ τὰ ἐνισχόμενα καὶ τὰ ἐνορμῶντα· ἴσχοντα μὲν αὐτὰ τὰ στερεὰ μόρια τοῦ σώματος, ἐνισχόμενα δὲ τὰ ὑγρὰ, ἐνορμῶντα δὲ τὰ πνεύματα προσαγορεύων.
Galen, De differentiis febrium, 7.278.11 K
Galen, On Tremor, Palpitation, Spasm and Rigor
μέμνηται δέ πως αὐτῶν ὧδε, τὰ ἴσχοντα λέγων, καὶ τὰ ἐνισχόμενα, καὶ τὰ ἐνορμῶντα· ἴσχοντα μὲν τὰ στερεὰ καλῶν, περιέχει γὰρ καὶ ἀποστέγει τὰ ὑγρά· ἐνισχόμενα δὲ, τὰ ὑγρὰ, περιέχεται γὰρ ὑπὸ τῶν στερεῶν· ἐνορμῶντα δὲ τὰ πνεύματα, πάντῃ γὰρ ἐξικνεῖται τοῦ σώματος ἐν ἀκαρεῖ χρόνῳ ῥᾳδίως τε καὶ ἀκωλύτως.
Galen, De tremore, palpitatione, convulsione et rigore, 7.597.3-9 K
Galen, Commentary on Epidemics 6
(only available in Pfaff’s German translation of the Arabic summary, online at the CMG)
(V 346, 5.6 L[ittré]) Hippocrates: Das Enthaltende und das Eindringende und das Enthaltene.
Galen: Auch diese Worte erklärt jeder von den Kommentatoren anders. Die beste Erklärung ist nach meiner Meinung die Erklärung derjenigen, welche sagen, daß er unter ‘das Enthaltende’ die festen Grundkörper [solid parts] und unter ‘das Eindringende’ oder ‘das Durchdringende’—diese Worte werden auf diese beiden Arten geschrieben—die Winde [pneumata] und unter ‘das Enthaltene’ die Feuchtigkeiten [humors], die die Körper enthalten, verstehe. Hippokrates verlange also, daß man von diesen drei Dingen aus, aus denen jeder lebende Körper bestehe, untersuche und erforsche, welches die Natur und die Kraft eines jeden von ihnen sei.
Galen, In Hippocratis Epidemiarum librum VI commentaria I-VI, CMG V 10,2,2 p.446 Wenkebach
Palladius, Overview of on Fevers
Ἰστέον ὅτι τῶν πυρετῶν τρία εἰσὶ τὰ γένη· τὰ μὲν γὰρ αὐτῶν ἐπὶ ὑγροῖς γίνονται καὶ ἐξάπτονται, τὰ δὲ ἐπὶ στερεοῖς, τὰ δὲ ἐπὶ πνεύμασι, περὶ ὧν ὁ Ἱπποκράτης λέγει ἴσχοντα, ἰσχόμενα καὶ ἐνορμῶντα, ἴσχοντα μὲν καλῶν τὰ στερεά, ἰσχόμενα δὲ τὰ ὑγρά, ἐνορμῶντα δὲ τὰ πνεύματα. Ὁ δὲ Γαληνὸς ἀναφέρει ὅτι ἀναμέμικται ἔν τε ταῖς ἀρτηρίαις ἁπάσαις διὰ πολλῶν ὀπῶν ἅμα πνεούσαις ἡ ἀερώδης οὐσία τῷ αἵματι καὶ κατὰ τὴν καρδίαν οὐδὲν ἧττον, ὡς ἂν σύρρους ὑπάρχουσα πάσαις αὐταῖς.
Palladius, Synopsis de febribus, 4.1-2