Alcmaeon of Croton

Alcmaeon of Croton

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Alcmaeon of Croton
Crotone is a city and comune in Calabria, southern Italy, on the Ionian Sea. Founded circa 710 BC as the Achaean colony of Croton , it was known as Cotrone from the Middle Ages until 1928, when its name was changed to the current one. In 1994 it became the capital of the newly established...

 (in Magna Græcia) was one of the most eminent natural philosophers and medical theorists of antiquity. His father's name was Peirithus (Peirithos). He is said by some to have been a pupil of Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

, and he may have been born around 510 BC. Although he wrote mostly on medical topics there is some suggestion that he was not a physician but a philosopher of science; he also indulged in astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

 and meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

. Nothing more is known of the events of his life.


He was considered by many an early pioneer and advocate of anatomical
Anatomy is a branch of biology and medicine that is the consideration of the structure of living things. It is a general term that includes human anatomy, animal anatomy , and plant anatomy...

Dissection is usually the process of disassembling and observing something to determine its internal structure and as an aid to discerning the functions and relationships of its components....

 and was said to be the first to identify Eustachian tube
Eustachian tube
The Eustachian tube is a tube that links the nasopharynx to the middle ear. It is a part of the middle ear. In adult humans the Eustachian tube is approximately 35 mm long. It is named after the sixteenth-century anatomist Bartolomeo Eustachi...

s. His celebrated discoveries in the field of dissection were noted in antiquity, but whether his knowledge in this branch of science was derived from the dissection of animals or of human bodies is still a disputed question. Calcidius
Calcidius was a 4th century Christian who translated the first part of Plato's Timaeus from Greek into Latin around the year 321 and provided with it an extensive commentary. This was done for Bishop Hosius of Córdoba...

, on whose authority the fact rests, merely says "qui primus exsectionem aggredi est ausus," and the word exsectio would apply equally well in either case; some modern scholars doubt Calcidius' word entirely.

He also was the first to dwell on the internal causes of illnesses. It was he who first suggested that health was a state of equilibrium between opposing humors and that illnesses were because of problems in environment, nutrition
Nutrition is the provision, to cells and organisms, of the materials necessary to support life. Many common health problems can be prevented or alleviated with a healthy diet....

 and lifestyle. He is said also to have been the first person who wrote on natural philosophy , and to have invented fable
A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized , and that illustrates a moral lesson , which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.A fable differs from...

s. He also wrote several other medical and philosophical works, of which nothing but the titles and a few fragments have been preserved by Stobaeus
Joannes Stobaeus , from Stobi in Macedonia, was the compiler of a valuable series of extracts from Greek authors. The work was originally divided into two volumes containing two books each...

, Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, and Galen
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus , better known as Galen of Pergamon , was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher...

. His Concerning Nature might be the earliest example of Greek medical literature.

Alcmaeon of Croton experimented with live animals by cutting the nerve behind the eye to study vision. He also contributed to the study of medicine by establishing the connection between the brain and the sense organs, and outlined the paths of the optic nerves as well as stating that the brain is the organ of the mind. However, his theories were not without mistakes. He said that sleep occurs when blood vessels in the brain are filled and that waking is caused by the emptying of these vessels. He also stated that the eye contains both fire and water.


Although Alcmaeon is often called a pupil of Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

, there is great reason to doubt whether he was a Pythagorean at all; his name seems to have crept into lists of Pythagoreans given us by later writers. Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 mentions him as nearly contemporary with Pythagoras, but distinguishes between the stoicheia of opposites, under which the Pythagoreans included all things; and the double principle of Alcmaeon, according to Aristotle, less extended, although he does not explain the precise difference. Other doctrines of Alcmaeon have been preserved to us. He said that the human soul was immortal and partook of the divine nature, because like the heavenly bodies it contained in itself a principle of motion. The eclipse
An eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when an astronomical object is temporarily obscured, either by passing into the shadow of another body or by having another body pass between it and the viewer...

 of the moon, which was also eternal, he supposed to arise from its shape, which he said was like a boat. All his doctrines which have come down to us relate to physics or medicine; and seem to have arisen partly out of the speculations of the Ionian School, with which rather than the Pythagorean, Aristotle appears to connect Alcmaeon, partly from the traditional lore of the earliest medical science.