The oath of Hippocrates: an historical review

Neurosurgery. 2001 Sep;49(3):554-66. doi: 10.1097/00006123-200109000-00002.


This presentation is designed to share with fellow neurosurgeons a topic, namely the oath of Hippocrates, that has been a subject of fascination to physicians, scholars, historians, and even the public for the past 2500 years. Its moral and ethical message has exhibited remarkable resiliency through the ages, in varied cultures. Although its language may appear odd, its precepts are as valid today as they were in Hippocrates' time. This can be best understood through an historical review of the oath's transmission and acceptance in different eras of western history. The longevity of the oath, however, is clearly attributable to its intrinsic merit, its high moral reverent tone, and a literary eloquence that placed Hippocrates among the best writers of antiquity. Despite the fame of its author, the oath has experienced a life of its own, from relative obscurity during the Dark Ages to reverential study since the Renaissance. Five aspects are considered in this discussion, i.e., 1) oaths in antiquity; 2) a biographical sketch of Hippocrates; 3) the chain of transmission from antiquity to modern times; 4) comments on other oaths, prayers, codes, and credos; and 5) an analysis and some personal views of the oath.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical / history
  • Greece
  • Hippocratic Oath*
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval

Personal name as subject

  • None Hippocrates