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The Route of Hippocratic Medicine as it returned to Europe through the Nestorians, via the University of Jundi Shapir and then the Muslims

30 Dec

The Route of Hippocratic Medicine as it returned to Europe through the Nestorians, via the University of Jundi Shapir and then the Muslims



To end, I must pay tribute to the earliest and most important revival of Greek medicine: its reappearance in oriental dress, during the Middle Ages, in one of the most interesting and least known detours of history—the Nestorian epic.*  In the year 431 A.D., a church crisis ended dramatically at the Council of Ephesos when Nestorios, the tough patriarch of Constantinople, was excommunicated for heresy.  He maintained that the divine and human persons were not entirely merged in the person of Christ, and especially that Mary should not be called Theotôkos, “Mother of God,” as was then customary.  Nestorios was exiled, and died—probably in Egypt—in 451.  His followers, the first Nestorians, were forced to flee.  Their first refuge was among the erudite monks of Edessa, in upper Mesopotamia.  But the long hand of the church reached them even there and caused them to scatter as far as India and China.  One group found permanent asylum in Persia, thanks to its tolerant king.  They settled in his capital, Jundi Shapur, an ancient and beautiful city not far from Susa, with a university and a hospital that functioned also as a medical school.  Happily transplanted, the Nestorians flourished.  Partly through their influence, partly through its fortunate circumstances, the University of Jundi Shapir became one of the leading intellectual centers of the time.  Its geographical setting allowed it to become a unique meeting point of cultures—Persian, Greek, Alexandrian, Jewish, Hindu, and Chinese—and its tolerant atmosphere allowed scholars of different creeds to work together in peace, as nowhere else in the world.  When the city fell to the Arabs in 636, the university was not disturbed; in fact, the conquerors adopted it and made of its medical school their principal training center. **  Two of the Prophet’s physicians were graduates of Jundi Shapur.  All the while, the Nestorians were performing a huge bibliographic task: translating Greek books into Syriac, the language of the university.  Hippocrates and Galen were among their first translations.  Then Muslims worked at Arabic translations of the Syriac.  Eventually a large body of Greek literature became available in Syriac and Arabic.


Toward the end of the tenth century Bagdhad, having become the capital of the caliphate, began to drain away the talents of Jundi Shapir.  The end came fast.  Today, nothing is left of that glorious city except for a few vague trenches in the ground.


The adventure of the Nestorians explains why some Greek works have come down to us ultimately as Latin versions from an Arabic text translated from the Syriac.  A new book of Galen, in Arabic, was discovered in Constantinople as late as 1931. **** The Nestorian experience also explains why the great Arabic physicians—Rhazes, Avicenna, Albucasis—not only revered the Greek masters, but spoke their same words, and tempered them with Hindu medicine.


* Literature on this major episode is amazingly scant.  See Whiple 1936; Elgood 1938; Major 1954 p. 227. on which I based my account.  For the sad lot of today’s Nestorians see atiya 1968.


** The tolerance of the early Muslims should be emphasized.  They found little difference between their creed and that of the Nestorians; and to the Nestorians, the Islamic message did not sound very different from their own (Jargy 1969)


*** On Medical Experience, a ninth-century copy of the original Arabic translation by Hubaish of the Syriac version by the Nestorian scholar Hunain. The book had been written by Galen at the age of nineteen!



Guido Majno: The Healing Hand Man and Wound in the Ancient World (Harvard press University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, © 1975) pp. 420-421.


The Healing Hand Man and Wound in the Ancient World: Wine and Vinegar As Antiseptics (Excerpt)

22 Dec

Wine and Vinegar As Antiseptics


Vinegar owes its sting to acetic acid, which is a powerful antiseptic.1  A 5 percent solution—about the same strength as in vinegar—was tested recently in Makere, Uganda, on a series of patients suffering from burns and superficial wounds.  Some bacteria proved resistant, but infections with Pseudomonas did very well.  As expected, the dressings were painful, but the pain did not last.2 Vinegar is definitely a rational wound wash.

As for wine, it has been the commonest item in wound treatment since the Greeks.  This record alone suggests that there should be something effective in it.  The first question to arise is whether this something could be alcohol.

The 9-11 percent concentrations of ethyl alcohol in ordinary wines have very little effect on bacteria.  The optimal strength of alcohol-water mixtures against E. coli and staphylococci is 70 percent by weight.3  Yet most experiments with wine as an antiseptic have proven successful.



The first were published in 1892 by Alois Pick, an Austrian military doctor.  They came in the wake of an epidemic of cholera in Paris, during which a Dr. Rabuteau had noticed that wine drinkers were relatively spared by the disease, and he therefore advised everybody to mix wine into the water.4  To test this theory, Dr Pick took cultures of cholera and typhoid bacilli, and added 1 cc of each to each of five flasks containing either water, wine (red or white), or 50-50 water-wine mixtures.  In the two flasks with water, the bacteria flourished; whereas the wine, straight or diluted, killed all cholera vibrios within ten or fifteen minutes.  Although some of the typhoid bacilli were still alive at the same time, they too had disappeared after twenty-four hours.  Dr Pick concluded that during cholera or typhoid epidemics it was advisable to drink water that had been mixed some time earlier with wine.

Thus forceful one-page article was followed by many others.  Despite the variety of wines and authors, a review of the results in 1951 showed consistent data: wine kills cholera vibrios in 0.5-10 minutes,  E. typhi in 5-240 minutes.5  Rhine wines, both red and white, kill staphylococci in one hour, or in two if they are diluted with equal amounts of water.  In Bordeaux, Prof. Ribéreau-Gayon found his strain of staphylococci so sensitive that he had to dilute the wine in order to obtain any bacterial growth after fifteen minutes.6

This long list should be convincing enough; but I resorted once again to my bacteriological friends for first-hand confirmation, using Greek wine.  Two samples of white wine—on resonated, one not—were obtained from a farmer in Crete; they were tested against bacterial cultures on agar plates, by the “center well” method that had also been used to test copper compounds.  Both wines behaved as if they contained an antibacterial substance, yet this could not be the 10 percent alcohol, because tests with the latter proved to have no effect.  Thereafter, four bottles of red wine were sacrificed to science: a  Chianti, a Beaujolais, a Dôle du Valais, and a Rioja from Spain.  Samples were infected with Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, E. coli, Proteus mirabilis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.  After six hours no live bacteria could be recovered, except a few staphylococci, but they too failed to grow after twelve hours.7

The antiseptic power of wine is no myth.  Since it cannot depend on alcohol alone—in fact, it persists when the alcohol is removed8—it was thought for some time that it depended on a mutual reinforcement between alcohol and the organic acids of which wine is rich.9  Recent studies from Bordeaux have taken an entirely new departure.  They pin down the mechanism to the anthocyanes, a subgroup in the large group of polyphenols present in wine.10  The most important member of this group of compounds, as regards antibacterial effects, is also a principal pigment of red wines, malvoside or oenoside; there is a colorless equivalent for white wines.

This pigment is already present in the grapes, but combined with a carbohydrate and thus not antiseptic; during alcohol fermentation it splits free and becomes activated.  This hydrolytic cleavage cannot take place unless the solution is acid; but all the steps in the sequence work out as if prearranged, because wine is very acid.  The average pH for red wines is 3.6, which is also the degree of acidity that corresponds to optimal solubility of the red pigment.11  One would therefore expect the bactericidal power of wine to increase with age; and so it does, in unison with the behavior of the pigment, as shown in the following tabulation.  The bactericidal index was obtained by finding the maximum dilution of wine in water that would kill a given strain of E. coli in no more than ten minutes but no less than five minutes.  For example, an index of 17 means that the maximum active dilution was 1/17.12

The effect of wine is thus truly bactericidal, not bacteriostatic.  Red and white wines are about equal in this respect.  Most effective are the strong southern wines like port. Among which the palm goes to a Greek wine from Samos, which kills E. coli within three minutes.13  Other polyphenols in wine may help, but their concentration is small.14  It is pleasing to know that the bacteria are killed by substances really present in native wine, not by the sulfurous anhydride that is now almost universally added to prevent acetic fermentation.

So the Greeks were quite right to pour wine into wounds and over dressings.  Wine has to be used generously, however, because its power is short-lived: the active principles are rapidly bound and inactivated by proteins,15  which explains why wine is not currently sold in first aid kits.

By cleansing wounds with wine the Greeks were actually disinfecting them with a polyphenol, a more complex version of Lister’s phenol—the pioneer drug of antiseptic surgery.  And the polyphenol of wine, malvoside—weight for weight and tested on E. coli—is 33 times more powerful than phenol.16


  1. Kass and Sossen 1959
  2. Phillips and others 1968
  3. Price 1939 p. 537
  4. Ribéreau-Gayon and Peynaud 1961 p. 135.
  5. Draczynski 1951 p. 26
  6. Stucky 1949
  7. Ribéreau-Gayon and Peynaud 1961 p. 1961 p. 145
  8. The experiments were carried out by Dr. D. Kekessy of the Institut d’Hygiène, University of geneva. For the samples of Greek wine, I am much indebted to Isabelle Joris and Lise Piguet, who brought them from Crete, and to Dimitros Nevrakis, who supplied them
  9. Ribéreau-Gayon and Peynaud 1961 p. 136
  10. Draczynski 1951 p. 26
  11. Ribéreau-Gayon and Peynaud 1961 p. 124 ff.
  12. Masquelier and Jensen 1953 p. 107
  13. Draczynski 1951 p. 137.
  14. Ribéreau-Gayon and Peynaud 1961 p. pp, 139, 143
  15. Draczynski 1951 p. 32; Ribéreau-Gayon and Peynaud 1961 p. 145
  16. Masqueuelier and Jensen 1953 pp. 106-107. In the experiment just quoted, the bacteria were still sensitive to phenol at 3.33 g/l. to oenidol at 0.1 g/l.


Guido Majno:  The Healing Hand Man and Wound in the Ancient World (Harvard press University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, © 1975) pp. 186-188.



The Stuarts

26 Aug
Kings and Queens of England & Scotland
Plantagenet Somerset Fry
A DK Publishing Book
© 1999 Dorling Kindersley Limited, London
Text Copyright © 1999 Plantagenet Somerset Fry

Kings and Queens of England & Scotland

14 Aug

The Rape of the Mind: Televised Interrogation (Excerpt)

9 Jul

Televised Interrogation

An open official interrogation affects those who watch it—and the fact that they are affected may influence its outcome. Various crime hearings in this country, for instance, were brought before the people by means of television. Citizens sitting comfortably at home far from the scene could see how defense lawyers maneuvered facts or instructed their clients (among whom were wee-known crime bosses) so that they would appear in a favorable light. Even though their actions may have been transparent tricks with the appearance of a fixed wrestling match, the result was that some of the not-so-jovial-looking victims of the criminals were made ridiculous, while the criminals, calm, assured, self-possessed, seemed more admirable. The victims often couldn’t stand being in the limelight; it made them feel ill at ease and embarrassed. The criminals, on the other hand, either denied every accusation in tones of righteous indignation or mad confessions which degenerated into hysterical quests for pity. The magic effect of all the anonymous onlookers—because the witness or defendant imagined their approval or disapproval—influence the outcome of the hearings. All of us who watched them brought our own subjective expectations to bear on these hearings.


The Rape of the Mind: The Trial as an Instrument of Intimidation (Excerpt)

9 Jul

The Trial as an Instrument of Intimidation



Man’s suggestibility can be a severe liability to him and to his democratic freedom in still another important respect.  Even when there is no deliberate attempt to manipulate public opinion, the uncontrolled discussion of legal actions, such as political or criminal trials, in newspaper and in partisan columns helps create a collective emotional atmosphere.  This makes it difficult fro those directly involved to maintain their much-needed objectivity and to render a verdict according to facts rather than suggestions and subjective experiences.


In addition, any judicial process which receives widespread publicity exerts mental pressure on the public at large.  Thus, not only the participants but the entire citizenry can become emotionally involved in the proceedings.  Any trial can be either an act of power or an act of truth.  Am apparently objective examination may become a weapon of control simply by the action of the suggestions that inevitably accompany it.  As an act of power by a totalitarian government, the trial can have frightening consequences.  The Moscow purge trials and the German Reichstag fire case are prime examples.


We do not, of course, have such horrifying travesties on justice in this country, but our tendency to turn legal actions into a field day for the newspapers, the radio, and television weakens our capcity to arrive at justice and truth. It would be better if we postponed discussion of the merits of any legal case until after the verdict is in.


As we have already seen, any man can be harassed into a confession.  The cruel process of menticide is not the only way to arrive at this goal; a man can be held guilty merely by accusation, especially when he is too weak to oppose the impact of the collective ire and public opinion.


In circumstances of abnormal fear and prejudice, men feel the need for a scapegoat more strongly than at other times.  Consequently, people can be easily duped by false accusations which satisfy their need to have someone to blame.  Victims of lynch mobs in our own country have been thus sacrificed to mass passion and so have some so-called traitors and collaborators.  In public opinion, the trial itself becomes the verdict of “guilty.”


The Rape of The Mind: The Cold War Against the Mind (Excerpt)

9 Jul

At this very moment in our country, and elaborate research into motivation is going on, whose object is to find out why and what the buyer likes to buy. What makes him tick? The aim is to bypass the resistance barriers of the buying public. It is part of our paradoxical cultural philosophy to stimulate human needs and to stimulate the wants of the people. Commercialized psychological understanding wants to sell the public, to the potential buyer, many more products than he really wants to buy. In order to do this, rather infantile impulses have to be awakened, such as sibling rivalry and neighbor envy, the need to have more and more sweets, the glamour of colours, and the need for more and more luxuries. The commercial psychologist teaches the seller how to avoid unpleasant associations in his advertising, how to stimulate unobtrusively, sex associations, how to make everything look simple and happy and successful and secure! He teaches the shops how to boost the buyer’s ego, how to flatter the customer. The marketing engineers have discovered that our public wants the suggestion of strength and virility in their products. A car must have more horsepower in order to balance feeling of inner weakness in the owner. A car must represent one’s social status and reputation, because without such a flag man feel’s empty. Advertising agencies dream of universitas advertenisis, the world of glittering sham ideas, the glorification of mundus vult decipi, the intensification of snob appeal, the expression of vulgar conspicuousness, and all this in order to push more sales into the greedy mouths of buying babies. In our world of advertising, artificial needs are invented by sedulous sellers and buyers. Here lies the threat of building up a sham world that can have a dangerous influence on our world of ideas.

This situation emphasizes the neurotic greed of the public, the need to indulge in private fancies at the cost of an awareness of real values. The public becomes conditioned to meretricious values. Of course, a free public gradually finds it defenses against slogans, but dishonesty and mistrust slip through the barriers of our unconsciousness and leave behind a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. After all, advertising symbolizes the art of making people dissatisfied with what they have. In the meantime it is evident man sustains a continual sneak attack on his better judgment.

In our epoch of too many noises and many frustrations, many “free” minds have given up the struggle for decency and individuality. They surrender to the Zeitgeist, often without being aware of it. Public opinion molds our critical thoughts every day. Unknowingly, we may become opinionated robots. The slow coercion of hypocrisy, of traditions in our culture that have a leveling effect—these things change us. We crave excitement, hair-raising stories, sensation. We search for situations that create artificial fear to cover up inner anxieties. We like to escape into the irrational because we dislike the challenge of study and self-thinking. Our leisure time is occupied increasingly by automatized activities in which we take no part: listening to piped-words and viewing televised screens. We hurry along with cars and go to bed with a sleeping pill. This pattern of living in turn may open the way for renewed sneak attacks on our mind. Our boredom may welcome any seductive suggestion.

The Rape of the Mind; Joost A.M. Meerloo M.D.
The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing
(The Universal Library, Grosset & Dunlap New York ©1956) pp. 98-99