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Alexandrian Psychotherapy

When the center of interest in Greek medicine was transferred from
Greece itself to Egypt, and the Alexandrian school represented what
was best in medical thinking and investigation, we find evidence once
more of wise physicians realizing the influence of the mind on the
body and of what seemed to physicians of lesser experience the cure of
physical ills by mental means. One of the most distinguished
physicians of all time is Erasistratos, who, with Herophilus, made the
fame of the great medical school at Alexandria, the first
university medical school in the world's history. Both practiced
dissection with assiduity, and, while it is Herophilus' name that is
associated with the torcular within the skull, and it was he who
gave the name calamus scriptorius to certain appearances in the
fourth ventricle, and otherwise stamped his personality on the study
of the brain, it is to Erasistratos that we have to turn for a typical
example of the mental physician. Erasistratos, about 300 B. C,
recognized the valves of the heart, gave them the names tricuspid and
sigmoid, and, like his great colleague, studied particularly the
nervous system. He seems to have distinguished the nerves of motion
from those of sensation, recognized their different functions and the
different directions in which they carried impulses, and thought the
brain the most important organ in the body.

The story is told that he was summoned in consultation to see the son
of Seleukos, surnamed Nikator, the Macedonian general of Alexander the
Great, who became ruler of Babylonia. The illness of this son,
Antiochos, had baffled the skill of the court physicians. While
Erasistratos was feeling his patient's pulse, the stepmother of the
young prince entered the room. She, the second wife of his father, was
young and handsome, and Erasistratos noted that there was great
perturbation of the pulse as soon as the stepmother came in. He
correctly surmised that the young man was in love with the lady and
that his illness had been occasioned by the feeling that his love was
hopeless. The very sharing of his secret seems to have started the
young man's cure, and Erasistratos' wisdom and medical skill became a
proverb throughout the East.

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