Hippocrates of Cos, Fractures

LCL 149: 84-85

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There is no question as to the relationship of these three treatises. Fractures and Joints probably once formed a single work, and are certainly by the same author,1 while Mochlicon is composed of an abbreviation of those parts of them which treat of dislocations. In antiquity no one doubted that Fractures and Joints were by the great Hippocrates, except a few who attributed them to another man of the same name, his grandfather, the son of Gnosidicus.2 Galen, in all his lists, classes them first, or nearly first, among the γνησιώτατα3 or “most genuine” works. Of the two things we know for certain about the teaching of Hippocrates, Plato’s statement that he held it impossible to understand the body without studying nature as a whole has proved too vague to be attached to any particular treatise, but the condemnation by his kinsman Ctesias of his reduction of the hip-joint (unless it refers to verbal teaching or to some work which has vanished) must apply, as Galen says,4 to Joints, where the subject is treated in detail.

  • 1This seems sufficiently proved by the fact that references are made from Joints to Fractures in exactly the same terms as to the earlier parts of Joints: e.g. J LXVII, LXXII, ὡς καὶ πρόσθεν εἴρηται. εἴρηται [εἴρηκα B Apoll.] καὶ πρόσθεν, which refer to F XXXI and XIII respectively. Reference to another treatise is put differently: e.g. ἐν ἑτέρῳ λόγῳ J XLV.
  • 2Galen, XV. 456.
  • 3XVII(1). 577.
  • 4XVIII(1). 731.

The work was known to, and in part paraphrased by, Diocles,1 who was probably adult before Hippocrates died, and there is no record that he doubted its authorship. We may therefore, perhaps, conclude that nothing in the Corpus has a better claim to be by Hippocrates himself than Fractures–Joints, and proceed to discuss them in some detail.

The question asked in antiquity was: Why does Fractures contain a good deal about dislocations(joints) while Joints has some sections on fractures? To which Galen replies that Hippocrates cared less for words than for things, and fractures and dislocations often come together. This answer is not quite satisfactory, for the weak point of the work is precisely the absence of any clear account of fracture-dislocations: besides, it seems probable to most careful readers that the result is mainly due to a work on fractures and dislocations having been broken up and put together again in disorder.

We may perhaps indicate this most clearly and briefly by taking Mochlicon, in which a natural order is preserved, as our guide, showing at the same time its relationship to the older treatise, or treatises. The order of Mochlicon is face, upper and lower limbs from above downwards, spine and ribs, though, like other Hippocratic works, it ends in a confused mass of rough notes.

M II–III, nose and ear, are derived from J XXXV–XL. M IV, lower jaw, from J XXX–XXXI. M V epitomizes in one chapter the remarkable account of shoulder dislocations, J I–XII. M VI is from J XIII, on dislocation of the outer end of the collarbone considered as avulsion of the acromion.

  • 1Apollonius, 13; Galen, XVIII(1). 519. Cf. Littré I. 334.
DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.hippocrates_cos-fractures_joints_mochlicon_fractures.1928