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On the Greek Physician Praxagoras from Kos and the Development of Medicαl Thinking in Antiquity


  • Lars-Ove Farnebo

Summary, in English

The Greek physician Praxagoras from Kos was active around year 300 BC. He represents the transition between the Hippocratic and the Hellenistic periods in medicine. Praxagoras was the teacher of several renowned physicians active during the 3rd century BC. Although he wrote many books nothing of his writing has survived to our time. To learn about his teachings we must rely on fragments and testimonies from the first centuries CE. The lack of preserved texts maybe explains why so little has been published about Praxagoras in modern literature. Only two comprehensive books containing Greek texts with translation and comments have been published (Steckerl 1958 and Lewis 2017).
The aim was to try to understand why Praxagoras made such an impact in Antiquity within four well defined areas: The role of humors in health and disease, the anatomy of blood vessels, the pulse, and the role of pneuma (πνεῦμα). To better understand how he came up with his ideas it was necessary to investigate what ideas had been put forward before him by the presocratic philosophers, by Hippokrates and by Aristoteles.
I have searched the Greek literature available in the database Thesaurus Linguae Graecae for texts wherein Praxagoras is mentioned. In total he was mentioned 197 times.
Praxagoras put much emphasis on the role of humors in health and disease. When the body is in balance, blood is produced from food and man is healthy. When the body is in imbalance humors, especially cold vitreous phlegm, are produced detrimental to health. Praxagoras was probably the first to make a clear distinction between arteries and veins, morphologically and physiologically. He thought that the role of arteries was to distribute pneuma, warm moist air, from the heart to the periphery of the body. This distribution was accomplished by an intrinsic activity in the arteries causing them to pulsate. Praxagoras used the pulse in his diagnostics. He thought that obstruction of the transport of pneuma by phlegm in the arteries caused disease.
Praxagoras main legacy lies in his distinction between arteries and veins and the use of the pulse in diagnostics.







Examensarbete för masterexamen (Två år)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • artery/ies - ἀρτηρία/ι
  • humor/s – χυμός/χυμοί
  • innate - ἔμφυτος
  • nerve – νεῦρον
  • pneuma – πνεῦμα
  • pulse – σφυγμός
  • vessel/s – φλέψ/φλέβες.


  • Johanna Akujärvi (PhD)