Tag Archives: The ancients

A distressing and fascinating read

Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times, 1908, new from Project Gutenberg.  The equipment is often equivalent to modern medical instruments and the procedures show an astounding ingenuity, but there’s a disturbing lack of anesthesia, antibiotics, germ theory, electric lights, and so on.  For mouth and throat operations, the ancient descriptions begin with “Seat the patient in the sunlight and direct him to gape wide.”

Here’s an unpleasant procedure that I would prefer to many others in the book:

Paul and Celsus describe a method of extracting foreign bodies from the ear by laying the patient on a board and striking the under side with a mallet. Paré mentions a hammer made of lead, and Fabricius describes one padded with leather, but neither of these is described by the ancients. There is, however, a Roman hammer of lead from the excavation at Uriconium in the Shrewsbury Museum.

I suppose every military surgeon had a Scoop of Diocles:

But a broad weapon if buried should not be extracted from a counter opening, lest to one large wound we add another; therefore it is to be extracted with a special variety of instrument which the Greeks call the Scoop of Diocles, since Diocles invented it. I have already stated that he was one of the most eminent of the old practitioners. Its blade of iron, or even of bronze, has at one end two hooks, one at each side turned backwards. At the other end it is folded over at the sides, and the end is slightly curved up towards that part which is bent. Moreover in it there is a perforation. This is introduced crosswise near the weapon, then when it comes near the point it is twisted a little so that it receives the point in the hole. When the weapon is in the cavity two fingers placed under the hooks at the other end simultaneously extract both the instrument and the weapon.

We will pass by bladder and gynecological instruments to quickly mention sponges, which “should be fresh and still preserve the smell of the sea.”

The book contains an thorough index and an extensive section of photographs of surviving tools.