visit the medical profession


As a profession, medicine was more highly regarded in Greece than in Rome,
however physicians were basically craftsmen, probably enjoying some esteem
among their customers, but not being part of the socio-political elite.
Roman doctors did not fare so well. Many doctors were freed Greek slaves,
hence the social standing of doctors was quite low. Because cure rates were
so low, many people were skeptical or even scornful of doctors. Their
skepticism is easily understood. Roman literature contains much which tells
us about the reactions of individuals to medicine and doctors. To listen to
the Roman authors is to hear tales of quackery at all levels of society. Our
sources often describe prevalent chicanery:

?Some doctors charge the most excessive prices for the most worthless
medicines and drugs, and others in the craft attempt to deal with and treat
diseases they obviously do not understand.? (Gargilius Martialis, Preface,

There were no licensing boards and no formal requirements for entrance to
the profession. Anyone could call himself a doctor. If his methods were
successful, he attracted more patients, if not, he found himself another

?Until recently, Diaulus was a doctor; now he is an undertaker. He is still
doing as an undertaker, what he used to do as a doctor.? (Martial, Epigrams

?You are now a gladiator, although until recently you were an
ophthalmologist. You did the same thing as a doctor that you do now as a
gladiator.? (Martial, Epigrams 8.74)

Medical training consisted mostly of apprentice work. Men trained as doctors
by following around another doctor.

?I felt a little ill and called Dr. Symmachus. Well, you came, Symmachus,
but you brought 100 medical students with you. One hundred ice cold hands
poked and jabbed me. I didn?t have a fever, Symmachus, when I called you,
but now I do.? (Martial, Epigrams 5.9)

Plutarch grumbles that practitioners used all sorts of questionable methods
to gain patients, ranging from escorting the prospective patient home from
bars to sharing dirty jokes with him.


Evidence for the public mistrust of physicians is plentiful, including these
epigrams from the Greek Anthology:

?Socles, promising to set Diodorus? crooked back straight, piled three solid
stones, each four feet square, on the hunchback?s spine. He was crushed and
died, but he became straighter than a ruler.? (Greek Anthology XI, 120)

?Alexis the physician purged by a clyster five patients at one time, and
five other by drugs; he visited five, and again he rubbed five with
ointment. And for all there was one night, one medicine, one coffin-maker,
one tomb, one Hades, one lamentation.? (Greek Anthology XI, 122) ?Phidon did
not purge me with a clyster or even feel me, but feeling feverish I
remembered his name and died.?(Greek Anthology XI, 118)
Ancient Gynecology