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
ime 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.