Sunday, December 13, 2020


Do No Harm

Robin Lane Fox, The Invention of Medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates (New York: Basic Books, 2020), page number unknown:
Fifteen years after the start of the plague, the Athenians decided in 415 BC to send a military expedition against Sicily, but the decision was then reopened in their democratic assembly. Thucydides tells how the general Nicias, wanting the idea to be abandoned, told the presiding member of the council to put the matter to a public vote for a second time: if he was afraid to do so, let him consider that if he did so, he would be acting as the 'doctor of the city when it has deliberated badly'. This advice, still pertinent, is then amplified. Good governance, Nicias says, is when 'someone benefits his country as much as possible or does it no willing harm.' This same precept, to 'do good or at least no harm', had already been commended to doctors in at least one of the new-style medical texts.21 It was to have a long life in medical ethics, but less of a life in political practice.

21. Thuc. 6.14; Epid. 1.5: Jouanna (2012) 21–38 and 152–3.

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