Medicine and psychiatry in Western culture: Ancient Greek myths and modern prejudices

Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2009 Oct 7;8:21. doi: 10.1186/1744-859X-8-21.

Abstract

The origins of Western culture extensively relate to Ancient Greek culture. While many ancient cultures have contributed to our current knowledge about medicine and the origins of psychiatry, the Ancient Greeks were among the best observers of feelings and moods patients expressed towards medicine and toward what today is referred to as 'psychopathology'. Myths and religious references were used to explain what was otherwise impossible to understand or be easily communicated. Most ancient myths focus on ambiguous feelings patients may have had towards drugs, especially psychotropic ones. Interestingly, such prejudices are common even today. Recalling ancient findings and descriptions made using myths could represent a valuable knowledge base for modern physicians, especially for psychiatrists and their patients, with the aim of better understanding each other and therefore achieving a better clinical outcome. This paper explores many human aspects and feelings towards doctors and their cures, referring to ancient myths and focusing on the perception of mental illness.