The art of Democedes and Atossa’s oath (Hdt. 3, 133)


  • Franco Giorgianni Dipartimento Culture e Società - Università degli Studi di Palermo, Italia



Democedes, Queen Atossa of Persia, King Darius I of Persia, Herodotus, Ancient Greek Medicine, Medical ethics, Swearing and the Hippocratic Oath


My interest in the long account that Herodotus (Histories III 125; 129-137) gives of the biographical vicissitudes of the physician Democedes of Croton (VI-V century BC) arises from the examination of some terms (the adverb ἀτρεκέως and the compound verb ἐξορκόω) which define the ways in which, in Herodotus’ representation, the doctor-patient relationship must necessarily be worked out in order to be able to speak of true medical art. In the narrative of Democedes’ forced stay at the Persian court, there stands out the clinical story of Queen Atossa, Darius’ wife: with her Democedes established a relationship of trust as a physician based on respect for her prerogatives as a female patient. From a detailed comparison between Herodotus’ testimony and some documents of Hip- pocratic medicine, a marked consonance, or even coincidence, emerges of terms and concepts that identify principles and values that the physician from Croton already shares with a significant part of the tradition of thought that lies at the ori- gins of the Hippocratic Oath, as we know it in its historical form. It can be concluded that the ethics of Democedes and of the Hippocratic physician speak the same language.