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Eric: Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach:
"The Music Man" of Medieval Germany –
And of the World

By Nancy & Eric Anderson
Photography by Authors

here's something going on here! We walk into a bakery in Eisenach, Germany and have a choice of Bach chocolate cakes. Around the corner we can buy a T-shirt with a Bach composition printed on it. If we knew more about music we might have recognized the piece. We have a friend in Florida, a retired physician, Jeff Neilson, who is self-assured enough he would have taken the shirt to the nearest church and played it on the organ but we can't even hum it.

Bach chocolate cakes, T-shirt with a Bach composition and Bach's statue in front of railway station and museum in Eisenach

But that's by the way. Now we understand. We are in the town that in 1685 saw the birth of probably the greatest musician who ever lived, Johann Sebastian Bach. It was more than one man; it was a family! Bach's descendants from his two wives included more than 100 who were prominent musicians. One son taught Mozart. And in nearby Erfurt, Thuringia's capital, the Bach family was so prominent all musicians were called "bachs."

It's a ten minute walk. It's a small town although its population today of 45,000 is greater than in Bach's day. We find our way easily from the railway station to the house he lived in till the age of ten. His statue stands before it and, next door, a new structure was added to make the two buildings the largest Bach museum in the world. The original Bach home was itself once two houses but they were joined in 1611.

There's a lot to see. Bach was a great reader and many books are displayed including ones on Martin Luther whose statue also stands in Eisenach. Castle Wartburg (where Luther spent ten weeks hiding from the threats of the Church translating the New Testament from Greek and Hebrew to spoken German) lies a mere 15 minutes away by bus or cab.

Michael Meissner on the keyboards and a Bach cantata composition from 1726 at the Bacchaus

The Bachhaus is a tribute to music so it's no surprise to be ushered into the Instrument Hall and hear our host Michael Meissner play on a variety of keyboard instruments: Baroque chamber organs, a 1765 bentside spinet a 1770 clavicord and a restored 1705 cembalo. We really don't know which is which so we ask but lose the sequence of the answers. Our guide whispers a follow-up: "We say, in the Bach House, music should never be silent!" She takes us past a framed hand-written piece of music. "This," she says, "is the Bach cantata 'Everything According to God's Will.'" We ourselves are big on Country Western and Sinatra so we had to look up some of those parts of Bach's life but we were intrigued to be gazing at a Bach manuscript from 1726.

at the Bachhaus: an exhibit of a skull cast and sculptures of Bach, Bach's family tree as drwan up by Bach himself and an oil painting showing Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach performing with Frederick the Great

We were intrigued also to find ourselves gazing at a skull cast from a controversial act of 1894 when a body suspected to be Bach's was exhumed from below Old St. John's Church in Leipzig where Bach had been buried in 1750. The church was being expanded and bodies were being moved. Only one had been buried in an oak coffin. To settle the question, was this skeleton Bach's? -- and to get better facial characteristics for a new statue to the composer -- forensic pathologists were called in, one from Dundee in Scotland.

An exhibit explains all this and on a nearby wall hangs Bach's family tree as drawn up by Bach himself. In some ways Bach and composers of this era were lucky: wealthy patrons and monarchs were supportive then. They would not have helped develop the quasi-music of today's young people. An oil painting in the Bachhaus shows a Bach descendant, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach playing a harpsichord while Frederick the Great accompanies him on the flute. There's no business like show-business!

You could easily spend a whole day at the Bachhaus. Its mission in 1906 when the New Bach Society created this museum in the original house was to collect and preserve "everything that had to do with Johann Sebastian Bach and his life's work." The mission -- clearly driven by the efficiency for which Germany is famous -- has surely been successful. It even has the entrance door to Bach's former apartment in Leipzig (our guide explaining, "Bach lived behind this door for 27 years! We got the door when the apartment was torn down in 1902.")

Visitors can study his 52 "sacred books, the tax records that show the house's ownership and his vast collection of musical instruments. Bach owned 19 instruments at the time of his death but the museum now has a total of 400 thanks to donations. On show are his spectacles as a reminder that he died in 1750 following unsuccessful eye surgery.

Bach's reputation declined after his death, his music thought old-fashioned. Yet for the next century famous composers including Mozart, Chopin and Mendelsshon embraced his style. Beethoven called him "the original father of harmony." Pablo Pasals promoted his Cello Suites. We push for more details to which our guide, Ms. Hartle answers, "We don't know a lot about his personal character just his music."

"Yes, but was he the greatest?" we ask. Our guide looks around the room and says, "His music is very emotional. When I listen to a Passion I feel very sad but also hopeful. Bach brings every word of the Bible to his music; they merge."

We learn that when NASA sent up the two Voyager spacecraft in 1977, Carl Sagan included a time capsule in those probes that might reach the nearest star in 40,000 years. Sagan's "bottle…launched into the cosmic ocean" contained what U.S. President Jimmy Carter called "our sounds, our science…and our music." The Golden Record contained music as diverse as Chuck Berry and Stravinsky, and other composers were represented with one piece by Mozart, two by Beethoven and three by Bach.

visitors listening to personal Bach recitals in bubble chairs; watching and listening to 3-dimensional film of orchestra performing - all at the Bachhaus

Science is found in the Bachhaus also. Visitors can sit in acoustic bubble chairs surrounded by their personal Bach recital while gazing at three paintings of the composer as he appeared in 1715, 1720 and 1746. They can also stand in the "Walkable Composition" room and watch and listen to three dimensional films of orchestras and choirs performing.

bust of Bach in front of the former location of his house in Weimar; inscription at the location of Bach's Weimar residence

Eisenach loves its special son but Bach did move around. He had to; he needed patrons as did all musicians of the Middle Ages and beyond. He lived in Weimar from 1708 to 1717 as the organist and chamber musician to the Duke of Weimar. He then accepted a position in Cothen but was "imprisoned" in Weimar for a month until his duke gave him permission to move. A bust of Bach rests near where his house once stood in the main square until the home was combined with the Hotel Elephant. Then in the 1930s the Weimar Bach house was removed to allow further hotel expansion, an increase in size desired by a frequent visitor to Weimar Germany, Adolph Hitler.

Bach's statue in front of St. Thomas Church, Leipzig; a bust of Bach in front of a pillar inside St. Thomas Church, Leipzig; stained glass window showing Bach

Bach's most significant move was, of course, to Leipzig where he lived for 27 years. He was the organist and cantor at the St. Thomas church where, before the great door, his massive statue now stands like a sentry guarding a castle. Inside his bust similarly stands before one of the pillars and in the stained glass window his face gazes at us rather speculatively.

another Bach statue at a park in Leipzig; Bach's grave inside St. Thomas Church

He is buried now in St. Thomas Church and another Bach statue, an older tribute, is found in the park round the corner. Leipzig with a population of half a million is the second largest city in Saxony (after Dresden which has only 200 more). Leipzig lies a mere 125 miles south of Berlin which adds to its popularity for tourists.

exhibits of homage to Bach including his desk and personal effects at the Museum of Musical Instruments, Leipzig

Leipzig has another charm for music lovers: a magnificent Museum of Musical Instruments where, amongst all the modern high tech electronics and collections of historic instruments, are several exhibits of homage to Bach, his desk and some of his personal effects.

So what are we thinking after our search for Bach ends in Germany? That as 19th century poet Frederick William Faber once said "the music of the Gospel leads us home."? Not really, even though one of our guides had told us: "Not all musicians believe in God but all musicians believe in Bach."

You can't escape the religious overtones to Bach's music. He wouldn't want you to. He wrote for the Church. Robert Schumann once said of this man, "Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder." Blind organist Helmut Walcha, after recording all Bach's complete organ works said, "Bach opens a vista to the world. After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning to life after all." Quaker art historian Roger Fry would have agreed. He once declared, "Bach almost persuades me to be a Christian."

Related Articles:
Augsburg; Bavaria; Music and Travel; Berlin in 5 Hours; Mozart in Salzburg; Berlin Train Station; Munich Christmas; Saxony Steam Train


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Tell Eric what you think of his article.
In the meantime, here are some of the feedback we have already received:


Hey Eric and Nancy! As a fellow Traveling Boy journalist, and as a confirmed WW2 aficionado, just wanted you to know how much I loved your story on Arnhem. Really great stuff, and truly brilliant riveting writing.

I’ve been there twice and covered it on my KNX radio show when I was on LA radio, and your story and evocative photos brought back a ton of wonderful and poignant memories. This could have been an amazingly brilliant military operation – as you both know – that might well have ended the War in Europe maybe a year earlier. However, allied misreading -- and in my view disregarding certain aspects of the situation in Holland -- plus the fact that they dropped the paras over 3 days and not in one huge assault at night (and not in the day as they did) doomed the mission to failure.

Your clever words and great photos brought all this graphically to life, and it should be required reading for anyone interested in any aspect of WW2, and certainly should be read by today’s teenagers. Again Bravo and well done!!!!

John Clayton
Travel with A Difference

We just couldn't leave your website before saying that we genuinely enjoyed the high quality information you offer for your visitors... Would be back frequently to check up on new stuff you post!

Raanana

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What a fantastic write-up!

I could almost copy and paste most of your narrative verbatim as it reflects our fantastic experience with Fantasy Cruises almost to a tee. It was truly one of the greatest vacations my girlfriend and I have ever experienced.

Cheers!
Mike Richard, Editor, Vagabondish.com

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One of my dreams is to go to Alaska by way of cruise. This article very much intensifies the longing for that dream to come to fruition. I simply cannot wait much longer. And I will never again be able to think of a waterfall without picturing myself "nosing up" to it. Thank you for this intriguing, virtual journey.

Sandra Mines, Seattle, WA

Thank you for writing, Sandra. Alaska really is a wondrous place. Re "Nosing up" to a waterfall: we have a different article up at Physician's Money Digest on the same cruise (Small Ship Cruising: Alaska by the Back Door). The third last set of images there shows a crew member filling a jug of ice water from a waterfall while standing in the bow of the ship! Best wishes. Get there! To Alaska one day.

Eric & Nancy

Loved your photos from Alaska! Because I am the Director of Sales & Marketing for Westmark Hotels, I am up in AK and the Yukon quite often to visit our hotels and staff! But your pictures were so enjoyable-love to see the "real" Alaskans!

Heidi Howeiler, Seattle, WA

Hi Ms. Howeiler, That was kind of you to write and yes, you do see real people in Alaska, don't you? Alaskans always remind us off rural Texans or Australians in the isolated Red Centre of their country: hard working, sensible, rolled-up-sleeves people with no affectations. We love your Westmark hotels and we take our hats off to the person who started your company, Chuck West. What a great guy!

Eric & Nancy

Enjoyed your realistic and practical comments on Provence. Always wanted to go there ever since reading Peter Mayle's 2 books on Provence. But the two times I went to France, time was always short, so we spent our days in Paris. And now you say, it is losing its unique charm to tourism. (Sigh). It's always a choice between sharing beauty, and keeping it hidden. The world lurches on. Thanks for your thoughts.

Dette, Iligan City, Philippines

Hi Dette, (Would love to see all your waterfalls), Thank you for writing. Provence is busy in the tourist season but it hasn't lost all its charm or the quirkiness Mayle talks about in his book Provence A to Z. It's still a place to visit. Appreciate hearing from you. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

What a great article, especially regarding Louis XIV. I was not aware there was a contemporary account of his execution. It was fascinating. Thank you!

Celtic fan, Nashua, MA

Dear Celtic fan, Thanks for writing. I didn't know about the account of his execution either till I stumbled upon it. Sad to think that the French revolutionaries thought they could be both judge and jury. We are lucky to have a more elegant system today. Thanks for writing.

Eric & Nancy

Nancy and Eric,

Enjoyed reading your article on Santa Fe, NM. I was in AZ travel nursing in 2008 and 2009 and made it to Santa Fe. Took a lot of pics and really loved walking around the old town while I was there. Hope to be able to take the wife there in the future.

Brett Eidson, Soso, MS

Hi dude! Nice to see your site. It's beautiful. My congratulations.

New York

Hi New York, Thank you for writing. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

Hi www.travelingboy.com! Your web-site is very interesting and I want to tell www.travelingboy.com G'night.

New York

Dear New York,

Thank you for writing. Glad you find the site interesting. We are here for you. Keep visiting.

Eric & Nancy

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This is all genuine. I will return to scan.

Keflavik

Hi Keflavik, Thank you for writing. We are happy you will return.

Eric & Nancy

Good article.

On Behalf Of Diane, Port Ludlow, WA

Thanks for writing from Port Ludlow. We hear that's a beautiful place. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

* * * * *

When I was hurt in a boat accident my life would be changed totally. I really don't post much but thanks for the good times I have here. Love this place. Long time lurker, thought I would say hello!

Miami

Dear Miami, Thanks for writing. It's nice to hear from you. Hope you are getting better. Glad you get some good times at Traveling boy. Good luck.

Eric & Nancy

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Dear friends,

My name is Adelina. I am a 22 years girl from Italy. I was looking for a free translation software and I found one. Program's name is Babel Fish and it supports 75 languages. I installed it but I could not understand how to use it. I am not a computer expert. Can someone help me please on how to run this.The link is here :http://access.im/3/babelfish. I thank you very much for your help.

Adelina, Celaya

Adelina, I didn't want to download it but I saw examples online. It seemed easy. You select the page you want translated, copy it and paste it into the box. You then click on the button to translate. You may have to do one page at a time. You can also use Google to translate a page; that's what I do because I don't want to load too much software.

Eric & Nancy

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Amiable brief and this mail helped me a lot in my college assignment. Thanks you seeking your information.

WordPress Themes, Gray Mountain

We are glad to have been of help. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

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What's up everyone? Great forum. Lots of lovely people. Just what I need. Hopefully this is just what i'm looking for. Looks like I have a lot to read.

Spanish John, Benidrom

Encouraging to get your feedback. Glad to hear from you. Thank you for writing.

Eric & Nancy

Nice dispatch (http://www.travelingboy.com/travel-eric.html) - and this enter helped me a lot in my college assignement. Thank you as your information.

Gray Mountain

Hi Gray Mountain,

Thank you for your comment. Your email reminds us all at TravelingBoy how important it is to be accurate in what we write. Good luck with your studies and have a great life.

Eric & Nancy

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Hello people, I just signed up on this splendid community forum and wanted to say hey there! Have a wonderful day!

Jacksonville

Hi Jacksonville, We are pleased to hear from new readers at TravelingBoy. Your feedback encourages us all to do better. Thank you for writing.

Eric & Nancy

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What a fascinating bit of Russian history you wrote about! How sad to learn that 100,000 churches were reduced to create skating rinks and such during the revolution, after seeing the photo of the interior of a magnificent church filled with art! War is so devastating on so many levels! The art of their culture is so beautiful as is shown in the image of the painted box! Thank you,

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

Dear Yoka,

Thank you for writing. Nancy is originally Lutheran and Eric is a dour Scot, more used to the frequently cold and often cheerless churches of his native land so we were both overwhelmed to see the beauty of Russian churches. It was kind of you to write, Yoka.

Thank you,
Eric & Nancy

Interesting observations.... Very informative and thought provoking. Questions.... What would be the best way to get from Moscow Airport DME to boat dock? taxi? prearranged limo? prepaid Viking Tours transfer? Any idea on cost and travel time for taxi or limo or Viking Cruise pickup from airport to boat? We shall be flying to Moscow on our own. Do you happen to have an address for the river boat dock that Viking Cruises uses in Moscow? I would be nice to Google map the situation. Thanks,

Robert Hopwood, Ottawa, Canada

Hi Bob,

Excuse the delay; we were on a trip. I do understand your question and will try and get you an answer. The Viking river dock in Moscow was for us in the north part of the city but once we were on the boat it was an easy ten minute walk to the Metro station that had us downtown within 30 minutes. I'm a lot more relaxed at the end of a trip than at the beginning and therefore I always feel taking the cruise-line sponsored trip from the airport to the dock makes sense: What starts right usually ends right.

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Hi Bob,

I’m back with more information. The river port’s address is Northern River Boat Station Leningradsky Prospekt, Khimki. If you Google that you will see it is about 15 minutes’ walk from two Metro stations. http://www.aptouring.com.au/files/documents/17/29022_Moscow2.pdf .

I spoke to Nancy at customer relations at Viking Cruises at the new LNR Warner Center in 5700 Canoga Avenue, Woodland Hills, Calif.

She was very helpful and advises you to take the Viking transportation service. She is biased, of course, but she’s right. Moscow DME airport is 40 miles away on the opposite side of the city, at least two hours driving time. The airport has no Metro station; you’d have to take the Aeroexpress train to Paveletsky station then change to the Metro and go to Rechnoy Vokzal station then take a cab to the port. A cab all the way from DME would cost at least 2000 rubles (more than $70). That’s less than the $60 each that Viking would charge…but…I think you’d be ill-advised to do it on your own. Why start the trip where the potential to screw up is so likely? Moscow taxi drivers are as dishonest as most tourist city cab drivers and probably yours won’t speak English. I think the address in Russian is

BUT...

I strongly discourage you from economizing on this and doing it on your own. Buy the transfer and save money somewhere else.

We have other Viking Volga web articles up at http://travelingboy.com/archive-travel-eric-russia.html and at http://www.ericandersonsworld.com/story.php?id=6LvDg.

Good luck. Great show Canada’s putting on for the Olympics!

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Reseller Hosting, London

Hi, Is it Britni Freeman?

Thank you, we think... We suspect your comments are valid. In fact we think all of us writing for TravelingBoy are starting to get into the swing of things and do a better job -- and your encouragement spurs us to do even better. Thank you for writing. Have a good 2010,

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Dear Nancy and Eric

Thank you so much for the wonderful article on statues in Europe. Statues are my favorite art form and your descriptions were delightful to read - knowledge and fun together. I do still wonder about that foot in Rome...

Peggy - Pasadena, CA

Hi Peggy,

Thank you for writing. We appreciate your comments. We used to be critical of people who can't identify the persons on statues in foreign cities -- until one day a tourist stopped us in our own San Diego and asked us, in vain, for details on a statue we'd never noticed before! We wonder about that Roman foot too. If Eric had stood any closer he'd be in his typical foot-in-mouth position.

Eric & Nancy Anderson

I live in Santa Fe and see and delight in it every day, but your writing makes it sparkle even more. How nice to see Santa Fe through your eyes. Great photos!

Cynthia Whitney-Ward - Santa Fe, NM

Dear Dr. Anderson:

I have followed your writing career for as long as I can remember, and I think the thing I enjoy the most about your travel writing is the sense of joy and discovery that leads the reader to anticipate ever corner you turn in your travels.What a delightful traveling companion you are, and I know have always been, with that wonderfully eternally youthful joie de vivre...I wonder:do you feel that East, West, home is best? And where IS that place you have never been, but want to go most of all,yet? Bring we, your devoted readers ever along!

CAT -- San Diego (Scrips Ranch), CA

Dear CAT,

Thank for taking the time to write to TravelingBoy.com. You are very kind. We don't know that travel writers make the best companions; we suspect they may be obsessed with getting the best photograph or may monopolize the guide with questions so that others don't get to ask what interests them. What place is best? Well, it may be fun to sit in a rickshaw in Beijing or try to master the Metro in Moscow, but -- as you imply -- it is good to get home after trips.

Home is as comfortable as a pair of old shoes and home for many of us fortunately contains family.

We've never been to Easter Island and may have missed the boat (no pun intended) there. The island is losing its innocence; we've seen that happen at Machu Picchu or, closer to home, at Lake Powell in Arizona. So maybe the best travel advice is: Go when you are fit and healthy, before rising prices make a destination inaccessible -- and before hordes of tourists ruin any destination's mystique.

With best Holiday Wishes from Traveling Boy,

Eric & Nancy Anderson

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What a fantastic primer on New York City. I think you have really captured its essence with this exciting overview of its offerings. Well done!

Gillian Abramson - New York

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You describe a city on wheels - er, wings - and an absolutely perfect way to travel. SHOWERS & FLOWERS! Amazing! I love that your passion for all-things-aviation comes through in this story about an almost unbelievable airplane. Thanks for breaking the news in such an engaging way!

Richard Frisbie - Saugerties, New York

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Enjoyed your blog on Romania. Noticed you called Bucharest "The Paris of the East." I wonder, is there any city not called "The Paris of something." I've read San Francisco is 'the Paris of the West,' Buenos Aires 'The Paris of South America,' and even Tromso, Norway 'The Paris of the Arctic.'

Terry Cowan - Fresno

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Hi Terry,

Thanks for writing to TravelingBoy. And thanks for educating me; I didn't know that about Tromso, didn't even know there was a Tromso. I heard Bangkok called the Venice of the East when I was there and, in two weeks, I'm heading for the Venice of the North, St. Petersburg, Russia.

It does become a bit silly, doesn't it? But we are originally an immigrant nation that was Eurocentric. Maybe it gave our forefathers confidence even courage when they took old names, old ideas to the New World with them. I know I feel nostalgic if I drive around Ontario, Canada and see all the British place names.

I appreciate your email. Thank you for writing.

Eric

Eric -

Enjoyed your article on Madrid. I noticed that you find it superior to Rome. Most of the Spanish folks that I meet seem to prefer Barcelona. How would you rate that city?

Samuel K
Seattle

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Hi Samuel,

We loved Barcelona although driving around the city was surprisingly complicated as our maps were inadequate. The cathedral had scaffolding around it so I couldn't get the pictures I wanted but we found the architecture fascinating and the Picasso museum rewarding. We were anxious to get on the road to Costa Brava and didn't have more than a couple of days in Barcelona.

Thanks for writing.
Eric


Great article on Madrid. I've heard there is a rivalry between the people of Madrid and Barcelona. In which city are the people friendlier? How about for hipness? I noticed you were Scottish. I felt a similar thing in Scotland, with a Glasgow v. Edinburgh vibe.

Gary
Santa Monica

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Thank you for writing to TravelingBoy, Gary. We found Barcelona friendlier.

Maybe that's because it's not the capital and it's not so busy either. Maybe it's because the Gaudi architectural influence is pervasive and -- to both its citizens and tourists -- comforting. Maybe it's because Barcelona is the gateway to the work of artist Salvatore Dali, and his spirit catches us. (I don't know much about art but I've seen a lot of Dali's work enough to think he never took himself too seriously and often painted tongue in cheek. Maybe fun people spring for fun places?) Hipness? Madrid is more formal and dressy but Barcelona, I believe, is more hip maybe, again, because it's more fun.

Your points about Scotland are valid. It's more than a joke. The Glaswegians are more down to earth. I think we see it here in the belief that if you had a flat tire in Middle America passers-by would be more inclined to stop and help than perhaps New Englanders.

- Eric

Dear Eric,

I liked the article. As I read it, I was wondering how you as a physician were influenced by Hippocrates. What influence did this historical figure have on the practice of medicine beyond the obvious 'oath.' Why is Hippocrates considered to be such a paragon of medicine? DWA - San Pedro, CA

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Dear David,

Thank you for writing to Travelingboy.com.

Hippocrates is revered because he believed his duty was to the individual patient, not to the community at large. This is a very important premise. The Romans, whose empire followed that of the Greeks, achieved much in health matters by emphasizing clean drinking water and personal hygiene, and created great national works like aquaducts and public baths but wealthy Romans apparently preferred Greek doctors as their personal physicians.

Hippocrates is also respected because he brought intellectual thought to diagnosis. He taught his students to use their five senses in assessing patients and was openly critical of the junk science of his day as practiced by the priest-physicians who preyed on the fear and ignorance of the ill persons who came to them.

It is true that not all medical chools today require graduating doctors to take the Hippocratic Oath but most conscientious physicians base their lifetime commitment to the practice of medicine on the life and teachings of that one man.

Or so I think. Perhaps if we knew more about our heroes they would seem less heroic. But in Hippocrates' case he did leave a record of his thoughts and some of his principles are today as strong as ever.

Thank you for writing, it is appreciated.

Eric

Stay tuned.


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