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Woodcut profile portrait of Aristotle wearing medieval garb and skullcap with Latin text surrounding it: “Vera Aristotelis Stagiretae efigies, peripateticae disciplinae principis” (translated as, “True image of Aristotle of Stagireta, the prince of the peripatetic disciplines”), from the title page of his De Anima (Venice: Hieronymus Scotus, 1560).  NLM Call number: WZ 240 A717da 1560. Born in 384 B.C.E. the son of a physician at Stageira in Macedonia, Aristotle was one of the most noted philosophers and scientists of the ancient world. Once a student of Plato at his Academy in Athens, Aristotle adopted his own methods of inquiry different from that of his teacher. Unlike Plato, Aristotle felt that one could, and in fact must, trust one's senses in the investigation of knowledge and reality.

At Plato's death, Aristotle was not chosen to be his successor as head of the Academy and he left Athens. He eventually returned to Macedonia, where he was teacher to the young Alexander the Great. After Alexander conquered Athens and the rest of the Middle East and Egypt, Aristotle returned to Athens to found the Lyceum, a school similar to Plato's Academy. After Alexander's death, Aristotle was forced to flee Athens to the nearby island of Euboea, where he died soon afterwards in 322 B.C.E

Aristotle's writings cover a wide variety of subjects, from human and animal anatomy, to metaphysics, statesmanship, and poetry. His treatises on human anatomy are lost, but his many works on animals advocate direct observation and anatomical comparisons between species through dissection. He wrote extensively on the soul, classifying the souls of different forms of life and inanimate objects, including the earth and the heavens. Aristotle wrote extensively on animal life and both sexual and asexual reproduction, making him in many ways the founder of Western natural philosophy.

Aristotle. De animalibus. (Venice: Iohannem de Colonia, 1476).

Page of text with manuscript initial letter 'E' in red ink, from: Aristotle. De animalibus. (Venice: Johann of Cologne, 1476). NLM Call number: WZ 230 A716da 1476. This first Latin edition of Aristotle’s De animalibus was translated by Theodore Gaza, a Greek refugee to Italy after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The initials are hand colored.

Aristotle. Φνσικης ακροασεως … (Parisiis: Apud Guil. Morelium, 1561).

Page of Greek text with woodcut headpiece and initial from Aristotle. Physices acroaseos ... (Paris: Guillaume Morelius, 1561). NLM Call number: WZ 240 A717Gr 1561. This early edition of Aristotle includes the Greek texts of his treatises on physics, dreams, and the soul.


Aristotle’s Master-piece improved … (London: Printed, and sold by the booksellers, [1766]).

Title page and frontispiece of Aristotle’s Master-piece improved. (London: Printed, and sold by the book sellers, [1766]).  The frontispiece is a woodcut image showing a scholar in a library at a desk writing with a quill pen with a hirsute nude woman standing to his left and a black child standing to her left with a window behind them showing the sun shining in.  NLM Call number: WZ 260 A718m 1766. Aristotle’s Master-piece first appeared in England in the 1690s as a popular guide to human reproduction; it was later published in more than 100 editions. Aristotle’s name was most likely used in order to add legitimacy to the work by claiming it had ancient, scientific sources. The true author is unknown.

The frontispiece of nearly every edition shows a hirsute woman and child by the desk of a scholar, most likely depicting popular notions of the time about the causes of birth defects.