Am J Sports Med. 1988 Nov-Dec; 16(6): 594-6.
Sport and medicine in ancient Greece.
Division of Rheumatology, Erasmus University Hospital, Brussels, Belgium.
Sport and medicine in ancient Greece were the result of a widespread tradition of liberty, which was at the heart of one of the most brilliant civilizations in history. Whereas war encouraged the development of surgical knowledge springing out of medical experience on the battlefield, peace promoted the burgeoning of sport as an integral part of Greek upbringing, allowing the channeling of young people's aggressiveness into physical competition. Medicine was magical and mythological, especially in the time of Homer (9th century BC); Aesculapius, the mythical god of healing, was its reference point. With Hippocrates (5th century BC), the body of medical experience was to be codified and built up, and was to undergo a novel evolution based on the theory of the balance of the four humors. The athlete's mentality, faced with trauma in the sports ground, underwent a change; injury was no longer considered a punishment by the gods. At the same time, temple offerings tendered in the hope of victory gave way to the athlete's personal preparation based on a specifically modified lifestyle, diet, and training. The resulting progress in medicine and public health, especially from the 5th century BC onward, was not only to favor athletic performances of high quality but also surgical techniques that were very advanced for their time. Thus it can be seen that the medical knowledge associated with the practice of sport progressed during antiquity because of its obligation to follow the warrior and then the athlete.