Original Research

The brain as viewed by the Greeks and Romans

Francois P. Retief, Louise Cilliers
Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Natuurwetenskap en Tegnologie | Vol 34, No 1 | a1297 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/satnt.v34i1.1297 | © 2015 Francois P. Retief, Louise Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 February 2015 | Published: 06 November 2015

About the author(s)

Francois P. Retief, Department of Greek, Latin and Classical Studies, University of Free State, South Africa
Louise Cilliers, Department of Greek, Latin and Classical Studies, University of Free State, South Africa

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In Ancient Egypt mummification was associated with extensive organ resection, but the brain was removed through a hole cut in the ethnocide bone. It was thus not observed as an organ. Greek writers of the 6th and 5th centuries BC originally said the brain was the seat of intelligence, the organ of sensory perception and partially the origin of sperm. The substance pneuma, originating from fresh air, played an essential role in brain function. Hippocrates initially described the brain as a double organ, covered by meninges and responsible for perception. Contemporaries like Plato, Aristotle and Diocles confirmed the findings though the latter two considered the heart to be the centre of intelligence. During the late 4th century BC, with the onset of the Hellenistic era of medicine, dissection of the human body was temporarily allowed at the medical school of Alexandria, and this led to a remarkable advance in the understanding of human anatomy and physiology under Herophilus and Erasistratus. Their excellent descriptions of the structure and function of the brain was only matched and surpassed by Galen in the 2nd century AD.


mummifikasie; setel van intelligensie; sensoriese waarneming; pneuma


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