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Eric: Rome: Basics for Beginners
Rome: Basics For Beginners
by Nancy & Eric Anderson
Photography by Authors

ome, like many destinations in Europe, has lost some of its magic over the last half-century. It's crowded now, noisy and, at times, its traffic is impossible. But it is the Eternal City, full of vigor and excitement - and tourists. Rome might be the most carefree city in Europe -- despite some urban squalor, despite vandalism so extreme that car owners immobilize their steering wheels with chains strong enough to contain a Sherman tank, despite pick-pocketing, petty thievery and mugging from motor bikes so commonplace that Italians have their own word, scippo, for it. Yet although Paris can fascinate and London can charm, Rome, arguably, beguiles travelers.

Rome will be busier than usual this summer. Not only have prices dropped somewhat due to the global recession but the US dollar has crept up in value compared to the Euro making travel cheaper for Americans. But what's going to make Rome really buzz this summer is the release in May 2009 of the movie of Dan Brown's novel Angels & Demons. Just as Braveheart brought more tourists to Scotland and Midnight in the Garden of Evil increased the number of visitors to Savannah, Georgia so this sequel (actually prequel) to The Da Vinci Code will whet the appetites of those who have never before managed to visit this city of the Caesars, this place with 2,500 years of history.

Rome's main attractions lie close together (with the exception of the Vatican) and are easily discovered in a few days. There are more motor cycles on the streets than ever but the Fountain of Trevi is still a short walk from the Spanish Steps, as is the Roman Forum to the Colosseum. As a result, it takes surprisingly little time to see and enjoy the classic parts of Rome so you can then discover your own favorite places and personalize your own memories of Rome. What would be everyone's favorites? What might be the basics for beginners?

Colosseum

The Colosseum is a convenient place to start. You'll probably see it first when your taxi driver, in an attempt to bump up your fare, chooses to take you past this massive structure even when it's not on the way to your hotel. The signature motif of the city, almost a cliché, it gets a Caesar's thumb's up from all visitors who stand before this amphitheater and gaze up at nearly 2000 years of history.

The Colosseum was built at the height of the Roman Empire's power. No construction was too ambitious for the Caesars of Rome especially when so much slave labor was available. Here are the ghosts of Rome. Here emperors brooded, crowds roared, excitement raged. Here died wild animals and Christian slaves and gory gladiators shouting "Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!" Today's sports stadium used to the spectacle of big-time sports would have found the performances at this Flavian Amphitheater awesome. When the emperor Trajan finally conquered Dacia (now Romania) he arranged for 10,000 gladiators to fight 11,000 wild beasts before a mob of 50,000 cheering citizens. Events sometimes lasted weeks. The inauguration of the Colosseum in AD 80 was attended by 100 days of celebrations during which time 9,000 wild animals and 2,000 gladiators were killed.

To build this incredible amphitheater 31/2 million cubic feet of stone were transported. It took four years and 50,000 wagon loads. The elliptical building, more than 600 feet long, dominated Rome and is now its most impressive attraction. It was always said:

While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall;
And when Rome falls, with it shall fall the world.

The glamour and appeal of the Colosseum entranced all Romans, especially their emperors. Hadrian once jumped into the arena to kill a lion with his own hands, and Commodus, himself, attended the gladiatorial school and boasted he had defeated 1000 gladiators. Those were pagan times and their barbaric customs were applauded until the era of the first Christian emperor, Constantine. Rome, however, refused to change until the monk Telemachus was stoned to death by the mob of spectators as he tried to intercede between gladiators in the early 5th Century AD. Then the bloody gladiator battles ended -- the last death being that of this martyr to violence.

pantheon

The Pantheon is the most perfect of all the classic monuments in Rome. A temple first built by Agrippa in 27 BC, it was rebuilt after a fire in AD 80 by the emperor Hadrian. Completed about AD 120 it has thus stood intact for the passage of 19 centuries. Sixteen massive monolithic columns guard the pronaos or entrance, each 41 feet high, and weighing 60 tons. Inside the tall rotunda is complete harmony: the diameter of the floor 142 ft. is the same as the height so that a perfect circle could be inscribed in the building with the inner curve of the cupola containing the upper half of the sphere. The cupola is the largest ever built in brick: two and a half feet wider than St. Peter's and 49 ft. greater than St. Paul's in London. It ends in a massive 30 ft. "eye" in the summit, a single source of light to illuminate the interior.

The building has survived because it was converted to a Christian church in AD 609 at which time the bodies of many martyrs were brought from the catacombs of Rome for reburial in the Pantheon. The kings of Italy, including Victor Emanuel II, lie here with the great Raphael.

It is said that Michaelangelo came here for inspiration for the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. How he would have recoiled from the rape of the bronze portico ceiling a century later when Pope Urban VIII removed 450,000 lbs. of bronze for the high altar of St. Peter's.
The Pantheon also influenced the design of the Capitol in Washington. Writer Roberto Vighi once said: "No other monument summarizes in itself so much history and so much art, and no other has influenced the architecture of the whole world for so many centuries."

piazza navona

Piazza Navona

In the city square about 500 yards west of the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, tourists find perhaps the favorite destination for any of Rome's famous gelato ice cream shops. The square joins the time of the Romans with the era of the Renaissance. The Emperor Domitian built a racetrack here for horse races, used it for athletic contests and, at times, flooded the stadium for sea battle games. But as the Roman Empire declined and its center moved to Constantinople, much of Navona's ornamental stone and decorative marble was carried off by Constantius, the third son of Constantine the Great, for his palace in the new capital. Later during Rome's Baroque period both Bernini and Borromini created glorious fountains to turn the square into one of the loveliest attractions in Rome.

trevi fountain

The Fountain of Trevi has become one of Rome's busiest attractions although many who throng around it are too young to have seen Three Coins in a Fountain, the 1954 movie with the Oscar-winning song that made it famous or the later 1959 Anita Ekberg movie La Dolce Vita. The fountain was designed by Nicola Salvi and completed in 1762 using water from a Roman aqueduct built in 12BC to supply Agrippa's baths. The name Trevi comes from the Latin "three roads." Three aqueducts came together at this spot, a reminder the Romans knew the importance of fresh water and were able to provide it two thousand years ago while, even today, much of the world lacks that public health capability.

vatican

The Vatican Museums overpower the visitor. The display of wealth contrasts vividly with the poverty of the Catholic Third World but had not the exhibits been safeguarded here in the largest museum complex in the world they might have been lost to history. A full day is not enough to explore the nine miles of corridors. Even if you head for the Sistine Chapel first it still lies a 20 minute walk from the entrance. To get the greatest experience go as soon as the museums open and be aware often there is early closing. It is always busy; more than 4 million visitors come every year and their cameras click away and hold up other visitors because, in contrast to many of Rome's museums, photography is allowed here except in the Sistine Chapel.

Consider studying a guide book the day before your visit or taking a guided tour when you get there. You can, of course, find a lot of information online including at the Vatican's own website at http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html. And of course carry your copy of Angels & Demons.

IF YOU GO

What is true of almost every destination is particularly right for Rome: Memorize a few words of Italian especially "Please" and "Thank you." Wear sensible shoes because Rome is a walking city. Do your home work first. Bring a guide book. Get a walking map -- any guide book and map, even if well thumbed, will still be useful because the attractions don't really change.

Nor do the hotels. Most are long established. The boutique Hotel Barocco ,for example, like some hotels regards the heat of summer as the low season and charges less at that time, a delightful finding for sure. We liked the Hotel Barocco: http://www.hotelbarocco.com it had great online prices, delightful cooked breakfast, an attentive staff and a superb location just 50 feet from the Barberini Metro and within walking distance of major attractions.

We've also enjoyed some of the family-run hotels near Termini, the main railway station. Their charm is they are full of Italians not tourists. And the restaurants surrounding this area have more local character and are less pricey. We've also once, way back when the US dollar was worth something, stayed at the Hotel Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps, a great hotel for a special event.

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

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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

* * * * *

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


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