The eye in antiquity
Interest in diseases of the eyes (probably rampant in antiquity) is evident in early medical writings from the Middle East; India and China. But real advance in the understanding of ophthalmology only followed on progressive comprehension of the anatomy of the eye during the Greek era (5th and 4th centuries BC). The Hippocratic Corpus contained the first reasonably accurate description of the structure of the eyeball (based on animal dissection) and the prognostic value of eye signs in clinical medicine. Aristotle was probably the first to give a convincing description of the optic nerve. Human dissection, initiated by the Alexandrians in Hellenistic times, established the correct structure of the eye and the course of the optic nerves. The anatomical descriptions of Herophilus in particular, were not improved on for 18 centuries. However, the physiology of vision largely remained a closed book, and the pathology of eye disease was not understood. Consequently, the treatment of abnormalities and illness of the eye remained, haphazard in the main. Eye surgery for trichiasis, abscesses, growths and small tumours of the eyelids were performed, and during the 1st century AD successful couching operations for eye cataracts were described. Demosthenes Philateles, Rufus of Ephesus and Susruta in India made some contributions, and Galen of Pergamon’s consolidation of knowledge remained dogma up to the Renaissance.
François Pieter Retief, University of the Free State
Andries A. Stultingh, University of the Free State
Louise Cilliers, University of the Free State
Hippocrates. Aristotle. Herophilus, eye surgery in antiquity, cataract operations in antiquity
Cite this article
South African Medical Journal 2008;98(9):692.
Date submitted: 2007-09-02
Date published: 2008-08-07
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