Menon naturally busies himself among the best families of Athens, and commands a very good income. He counts it part of his equipment to be able to persuade his patients, by all the rules of logic and rhetoric, to submit to disagreeable treatment; and for that end has taken lessons in informal oratory from Isocrates or one of his associates. Some of Menon’s competitors (feeling themselves less eloquent) have actually a paid rhetorician whom they can take to the bedside of a stubborn invalid, to induce him by irrefutable arguments to endure an amputation.[*]
[*]Plato tells how Gorgias, the famous rhetorician, was sometimes thus hired. A truly Greek artifice—this substitution of oratory for chloroform!
No such honor of course is paid to the intellects of the poorer fry, who swarm in at Menon’s surgery. Those who cannot pay to have him bandage them himself, perforce put up with the secondary skill and wisdom of the “disciples.” The drug-mixing slaves are expected to salve and physic the patients of their own class; but there seems to be a law against allowing them to attempt the treatment of free-born men.
68. Quacks and Charlatans.—Unluckily not everybody is wise enough to put up with the presumably honest efforts of Menon’s underlings. There appears to be no law against anybody who wishes to pose as a physician, and to sell his inexperience and his quack nostrums. Vendors of every sort of cure-all abound, as well as creatures who work on the superstitions and pretend to cure by charms and hocus-pocus. In the market there is such a swarm of these charlatans of healing that they bring the whole medical profession into contempt. Certain people go so far as to distrust the efficacy of any part of the lore of Asclepius. Says one poet tartly:—
The surgeon Menedemos, as men say,
Touched as he passed a Zeus of marble white;
Neither the marble nor his Zeus-ship might
Avail the god—they buried him to-day.
And again even to dream of the quacks is dangerous:—
Diophantes, sleeping, saw
Hermas the physician:
Diophantes never woke
From that fatal vision.[*]
[*]Both of these quotations probably date from later than 360 B.C., but they are perfectly in keeping with the general opinion of Greek quackery.
All in all, despite Menon’s good intentions and not despicable skill, it is fortunate the gods have made “Good Health” one of their commonest gifts to the Athenians. Constant exercise in the gymnasia, occasional service in the army, the absence of cramping and unhealthful office work, and a climate which puts out-of-door existence at a premium, secure for them a general good health that compensates for most of the lack of a scientific medicine.