Museum of Medicine
School of Medicine, University of Crete

Exhibits / Traditional Healing Manual

The Traditional Healing Manual (Iatrosofion) of the Museum of Medicine of Crete dates back to the 19th century and rescues elements of empirical medicine and therapeutics at the time of Ottoman rule. In its major part, it documents treatments for diseases such as "abdominal pain", "head scabs" and "wounds". The definition of each disease is descriptive based on its macroscopic appearance and its prominent symptoms.

The definition of the disease is also broad enough to include, in addition to acute conditions, chronic health problems with a strong social footprint such as "the woman who cannot procreate".

The treatments suggested mainly include hand-made oral medications and ointments. A variety of ingredients, both herbal and animal, are used in the manufacture of these special medicines. There are, inter alia, ordinary or sophisticated foods such as the " egg white" or " yolk", the "rose oil", herbs such as "the rue" (routa graveolens) but also ingredients that seem strange to the modern reader such as " sulphur" and " beef urine".

These medications are sometimes specialized and some other times refer to "a broad spectrum" of diseases. In the first case, they may treat "hydropicia" or "the liquid coming out of the ear", while in the second they treat "itching" regardless of aetiology. The therapeutic approach reflects a perception of the condition that goes beyond the margins of the disease and approaches disease and illness – with their modern, biopsychosocial definition. The disorder of human physiology is inextricably linked to the psychosocial well-being of the individual. In other words, "snoring while sleeping" and "woman's infertility" find a place next to "broken bones" because the patient is injured as an individual and as a member of the community.

The author (Ioannis Athanasiou from Papingon), in many places, combines elements of anatomy and nosology with crude perceptions or even witchery. The scattered use of anatomical terms such as "kidney" and "oculus" indicates a theoretical background, derived either from readings or from apprenticeships near doctors with theoretical knowledge. The description of treatments in vernacular language suggests that the author should be regarded as an empirical healer rather than a physician. In any case, the vernacular – for the time – language makes this knowledge accessible to other empirical healers as well as to any individual with basic reading and writing skills.

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School of Medicine
University of Crete
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Voutes, Heraklion Crete, GR