Shrewsbury School

‘This won’t hurt... much’ – Medicine in the Ancient World lecture

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Former Head of Classics Dr John Godwin braved the elements and returned to Shrewsbury School on a stormy Friday evening last week to give a fascinating, funny and at times gruesome lecture to pupils from two academic disciplines – those intending to study medicine, and Classicists – on the subject of Medicine in the Ancient World.

Dr Godwin looked at the Hippocratic Oath (no longer sworn in fact by doctors these days) and its basis on sound, logical principles of doing no harm to the patient and keeping a patient’s medical details confidential. In this respect, given the huge advances in medical science, some things have changed very little.

Medical treatment in the ancient world was a private business, to be paid for; no welfare state or ancient equivalent of the NHS meant that if you couldn’t afford to pay, life expectancy could be brutally short.

Pupils hugely enjoyed the concluding element of the talk, illustrated with some hilarious cartoons, about birth control in ancient Rome and classical Athens. The ancients thought a huge array of substances, from herbs and spices (pepper, anyone?) to crocodile dung (don’t ask), could prevent unwanted pregnancies.

As pupils and teachers left the talk, I have no doubt that they, as I did, were harbouring thoughts of unalloyed gratitude and relief that we live in this era, and not back in the ‘bad old days’.

Many thanks to Dr Godwin for treating us to an informative and highly entertaining lecture delivered with his customary flair, humour, and academic rigour.

Mr Fitzgerald, Head of Classics


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