Homoeopathic Principle in Medicine before Hahnemann


Homoeopathic Principle in Medicine before Hahnemann. Galen himself, the father of allopathic physic, the champion of the motto contraria contrariis curantur, may be impressed into the service of homoeopathy from many a phrase in his writings, where he gives his testimony…


Great discoveries foreshadowed

-Planetary motions

-The New World

– Gravitation

-Circulation of the blood

-The steam-engine

– Vaccination

-Anticipations of homoeopathy

-Hippocrates

-Democritus

– Empirical school

-Erasistratos, Heraclides, Mithridates, Attalos, Nicander, Xenocrates, Vero, Quintus Serenus, Celsus–Galen

– Fallopius

-Basil Valentine

-Paracelsus

-Many points of resemblance in the doctrines of Paracelsus and of Hahnemann

-Paracelsus’s ridicule of ordinary practice

– (Anecdote of Sylvius)

-His classification of physicians

-His hatred of the apothecaries

-His horror of hypothesis

-His ridicule of complex prescriptions

-His abhorrence of nosology

-His attacks on contraria contrariis. His defence of similia similibus

-His system a rude homoeopathy

-His partiality for small doses

-His employment of olfaction

-His belief in the separation of the medicinal spirit from the material drug

– Did Hahnemann borrow from Paracelsus?

Croll-Agricola-Tycho Brahe- Arndt-Ancient homoeopathic these-Milton

-Doctrine of signatures

– Partial acknowledgment of homoeopathy by Hahnemann’s immediate predecessors

-Boulduc-Detharding-Thoury-Storck-Stahl-Riviere

– French peasants-Sainte Marie

-Religious homoeopathy

-Leadam- Buchner

-Poetic homoeopathy

-Homer-Shakespeare-Rainund.


GREAT truths, universal laws of nature, important facts that must effect mighty revolutions in the arts or sciences, and exercise a powerful influence on man’s destinies, have generally foreshadowed their discovery by some more or less obscure hints or beliefs among the generations who were not destined to derive the full benefit of their revelation, but who now and then, by vague or distinct utterances, betrayed a semi-consciousness of their existence, and whose instincts perceived what their reason failed to discover.

The ancient king to whom the Ptolemaic system of the planetary movements was being explained, and who impatiently, and somewhat blasphemously as has been thought, exclaimed that the Maker was a bungler to produce such confusion, and that he would have arranged their motions much better, thereby showed his instinctive repugnance to the explanation offered and his shadowy conviction of a better.

The philosophic Seneca scouted the idea of the motions of any of the heavenly bodies being irregular, and he predicted that the day would come when the laws that guided the motions of the comets would be proved to be identical with those that regulated the course of the planets – prediction that was verified many centuries later by the by the discoveries of Newton; though event he sagacious Bacon accepted the common notion of the eccentric and irregular movements of comets (Nov. Org., lib. ii. 35).

A passage of Seneca is often quoted to prove that the ancients had a vague idea of the existence of a great continent beyond the Pillars of Hercules, that were commonly believed to mark the boundaries of the world; and it is thought that Christopher Columbus first imbibed the notion of his great discovery form the traditions of the Icelandic mariners whose shores he visited.

A suspicion of the laws of gravitation, the full revelation of which we owe to Newton, is observable in the writings of Bacon. “If there be”, says he, “any magnetic force which acts by sympathy between the globe of the earth and heavy bodies, or between that of the moon and the waters of the sea (as seems most probable from the particular floods and ebbs which occur twice in the month), or between the starry sphere and the planets, by which they are summoned and raised to their apologies, these must all operate at very great distances.” (Nov. Org., lib. ii. 45).

Many anatomists before Harvey’s time had inklings of the true character of the circulation of the blood; some indeed gave expositions remarkably near to the truth, especially the anatomist Realdus Columbus, who wrote twenty years before Harvey’s birth. In proof of this assertion, I may just quote what he says. “The blood,” he writes, “once it has entered the right ventricle form the vena cava, can in no way again get back; for the tricuspid valves are so place, that whilst they give a ready passage to the steam inwards they effectually oppose its return. The blood continuing to advance from the right ventricle into the vena arteriosa, or pulmonary artery, once there cannot flow back upon the ventricle, for it is opposed by the sigmoid valves situated at the root of the vessel.

The blood therefore, agitated and mixed with air in the lungs, and having thus in some sort acquired the nature of spirit, is carried by the arteria venosa, or pulmonary vein, into the left ventricle, from whence being received into the aorta, it is, by the ramifications of this vessel, transmitted to all parts of the body.” So far his explanation is correct; but in his further explanation, Columbus gets into a maze of confusion, which shows us that his notions on the subject were not quite clear. Andreas Caesalpinus of Arezzo also, who wrote ten years after Columbus, gives a similar explanation of the circulation. Shakespeare himself has been quoted to show the popular idea of the circulation of the blood before Harvey’s time. Thus he makes Brutus say to Portia –

“You are my true and honourable wife;

As dear to me as are the ruddy drops

That visit my sad heart”.

And he makes Warwick thus apostrophize the murdered body of Gloster-

“See how the blood is settled in his face?

-Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost,

Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale and bloodless,

Being all descended to the labouring heart;

Who, in the conflict that it holds with death,

Attracts the same for aidance ‘gainst the enemy;

Which with the heart there cools, and ne’er returneth

To blush and beautify the cheek again.

But, see, his face is black and full of blood”.

– HEN. VI., Pt.II.

Such anticipations, striking though they are, by no means derogate from Harvey’s merit, but prove that the crude and hardly formed idea of his immortal discovery floated vaguely in men’s minds before he gave it perfect utterance.

For many years before James Watt produced his marvellously perfect steam-engine, the application of steam to the movement of machinery had not only been proposed but actually carried out. Watt’s merit consisted in perfecting the crude efforts of his predecessors, and elucidating the true principles on which this powerful agent might be most effectually and economically applied.

The great prophylactic of small-pox, with which Jenner’s name is for ever bound up, was known to many as a thing of accidental occurrence, many years before his day, but he first thought of tracing it to its source, and employing artificially, for the weal of all mankind, an agent that had previously exercised its beneficial action on a limited number of individuals without their wish or will.

I might multiply instances of this sort, where the presentiment of a great truth existed long before it was clearly and distinctly enunciated; but the above examples will suffice to make us suspect that if the law of cure with which Hahnemann’s name is indissolubly connected be indeed a universal law of nature, some traces of it must exist in the records of the medical art, which now extend over a period of near 3000 years. And such is indeed the case; (Dr. Christison to the contrary notwithstanding. In the Inaugural Address of this eminent toxicologist and professor of Materia Medica, for 1851, we find the following remarks in relation to homoeopathy:-“It is undeniable,” says he, “that all important discoveries in science at large are preceded by a period of incubation as it were, during which the world is gradually prepared to receive them.

There has been no shadow cast before the coming event, (homoeopathy), no antecedent approximation, no universal adoption, no intruding claimant.” My object in this lecture is to show that the great truth, revealed in its full splendour by Hahnemann, did cast its shadow before it in antiquity, and that there was an antecedent approximation to it in remote as well as more recent times, and I may further add, that intruding claimants are not wanting, though the universal adoption has not yet occurred.) for not only do we find vague presentiments of this one general therapeutic principle scattered throughout the writings of the great medical authorities of almost every age, and in some of them prominently set forth, but we find hints of it in the popular and domestic physic of almost all times and countries. In some cases it is adduced side by side with other and false therapeutic laws; in others a kind of universality is claimed for it; and again we shall detect it decked out in some fantastic disguise, or buried beneath mystic obscure phraseology.

In one of the works attributed to Hippocrates, but commonly believed to be spurious, though of nearly equal antiquity, I mean the treatise On the Places in Man, the author makes the important admission, that though the general rule of treatment be contraria contrariis, the opposite rule also hold good in some cases, viz., Similia Similibus curantur. In illustration of the latter, he states that the same substances that cause strangury, cough, vomiting, and diarrhoea, will cure these diseases. Warm water, he says, which, when drunk, generally excites vomiting, will also sometimes put a stop to it by removing its cause. The treatment he advises for suicidal mania is a further illustration of the homoeopathic principle. “Give the patient,” says he, “a draught made form the root of mandrake, in a smaller dose than will induce mania.” Curiously enough, in some of his pathological views, this writer also anticipated what has been specially insisted on by Hahnemann, namely, that there can be no such thing as a local disease, but if the very smallest part of the body suffer, it will impart its suffering to the whole frame.

The author of the work De Morbis Popularibus, supposed to be the great Hippocrates, has the following homoeopathic formula: Dolor dolorem solvit,” equivalent to the popular saw that one pain cures another. The same maxim is repeated in the Aphorisms (aphorism ii. 46), where it is said, “Of two pains occurring together, not in the same part of the body, the stronger weakens the other.” A few more instances from Hippocrates may be cited to show the partial knowledge he had of this natural law. “The cold stomach,” he says, in the Aphorisms, “delights in cold things.” In the same book of Aphorisms (Aphorism v. 17), he states that cold water causes convulsions, tetanus, rigor, and stiffness; and in another, that affusion with cold water in tetanus will restore the natural warmth (Aphorism. v. 21). Again, cold things, such as snow and ice, cause hemorrhages (Aphorism v.24), and yet cold water is to be used for the cure of hemorrhages (Aphorism v.23). In the book De Internis Affectionibus, he says, when in summer, after a long walk, dropsy is produced by the hasty drinking of stagnant or rain water, the best remedy is for the patient to drink himself full of the same water, for that causes increased stools and urine. In the book De Morbo Sacro, he says of epilepsies, “Most of them are curable by the same means as those by which they were produced.” (Adams’s Hipp., 857.) The epistle of Democritus to Hippocrates, in the apocryphal collection called the Epistles of Hippocrates, contains a passage that recognises the homoeopathic principle. It is as follows:- “Hellebore given to the sane pours darkness on the mind, but it is wont greatly to benefit the insane.”

None of the schools of antiquity can show so many points of resemblance to the Hahnemannic doctrines as the so-called empirical school. As this was the school which most emphatically insisted on the observation of nature and discountenanced theorizing, we might naturally expect to find some analogy between their practice and that of Hahnemann, deduced, as the latter is, avowedly from the observation of nature. The empirical school recognised the necessity of instituting experiments to ascertain the pathogenetic powers of drugs, and actually act about doing so. Thus we find Erasistratos of Julis (304 B.C.) giving some account of the action of poisons, not very satisfactory it must be confessed, but still showing the importance he attached to such experiments. Heraclides of Tarentum wrote a treatise upon the effects of the bites of poisonous animals. Mithridates king of Pontus (124-64 B.C.) tries animal and vegetable poisons on himself and on animals, for the purpose of ascertaining their effects, and another royal medical dilettante, Attalos Philometer king of Pergamos, experimented with digitalis, hyoscyamus, veratrum, hemlock, etc. Nicander of Kolophon,(Kurtz Sprengel’s Geschichte der Arzneikunde, 4th edit., vol. i.p.595.) a poet as well as a physician, has recorded the physiological action of a great array of animal and vegetable substances in his two poems entitled Theriaca and Alexipharmica. Among other things, these poetical Materia Medicas or pathogenetic poems contain accounts of the effects of seven different kinds of serpents, four kinds of spiders, as many different species of scorpions, various kinds of beetles, salamanders, toads; besides the poisonous action of aconite, coriander, hemlock, solanum, henbane, opium, white lead, etc. etc. Nicander also recognises the homoeopathic, or, perhaps more correctly speaking, the isopathic principle; for he recommends for the dangerous effects of viper-bites, the liver or head of the reptile macerated in wine or river-water, and for poisoning by the toad called rana nubeta, the cooked flesh of frogs.

Another of the empirical school, Xenocrates of Aphrodisias, who flourished some ages before Galen, recommended the blood of young goats as the best remedy for haemoptysis; indeed, he anticipated the modern isopathists of the Hermann stamp, for he wrote a work commending the therapeutic virtues of excrementitious matters, such as bile, urine, menstrual blood, etc., when given on similar principle. Ecchymosis, especially of the eyes, was to be treated by the local application of pigeon’s blood, asthma of dried and pulverized fox’s lungs, affections of the liver by dried wolf’s liver, diseases of the spleen by roasted bullock’s spleen, hydrophobia by the saliva found under the tongue of the rabid dog, or by the internal use of its liver. (Pliny (xxiii.23) says that the hydrophobia produced by the bite of a rabid dog is immediately removed by putting a rag dipped in menstrual blood beneath the vessel the patient drinks out of, because dogs become rabid form swallowing such blood.) Another empiricist, Varro, advises those bitten by an asp to drink their own urine. It was a common practice to apply the entrails of a viper to the part bitten by one, and the internal use of the theriac, which contained viper’s flesh as a chief ingredient, was used for the same purpose. It was also generally believed that the poison of spiders, scorpions, lizards, etc., was most effectively antidoted by some portion of their bodies. Thus Quintus Serenus says :-

“Quae nocuit serpens fertur caput illius apte

Vulneribus jungi, sanat quae sauciat ipsa.

And Celsus, who flourished long after the period I am speaking of, says (lib. v. c.27): – “Nam scorpio sibi ipse pulcherrimum medicamentum est. Quidam contritum cum vino bibunt; quidam eodam modo contritum super vulnus imponunt; quidam, super prunam eo imposito, vulnus suffumigant, undique veste circumdata, ne is fumus dilabatur; tum carbonem ejus super vulnus deligant.” This belief in the self-curative power of the scorpion is entertained, I know not with what justice, to the present day in many countries. (E.g., Morocco (Jackson’s Morocco, p.188); and Italy (G.T. Wilhelm, Naturgeschichte, Thl. iii. p. 342).) Such facts or beliefs have evidently given rise to the proverb – “Venenum veneni est remedium,” a notion that has been seized upon by the author of Hudibras in the lines.

“As wounds by wider wounds are healed,

And poisons by themselves expelled”.

The examples just quoted from the empirical authors are certainly more within the domain of isopathy of homoeopathy, still they suffice to show the existence of a sort of instinctive notion that the remedy must act in the same sense as the morbific agent; and as the line of demarcation betwixt homoeopathy and isopathy is not very well marked, we may take them as a rough and rude expression of the principle similia similibus.

Galen himself, the father of allopathic physic, the champion of the motto contraria contrariis curantur, may be impressed into the service of homoeopathy from many a phrase in his writings, where he gives his testimony – truly with reservations mostly, – but still striking testimony to the occasional truth of the opposite maxim. I make no account of such phrases as this, “Similia efficere posse similia experti sumus,” (De Simpl. Medicam. Facultatib., lib. x.) which is merely a formula of the empirical or experimental doctrine; but the following passages are less doubtful acknowledgments of the homoeopathic principle: “Similia similibus Deus adjungit.” (De Theria. ad Pison.) “Simile ad sibi simile natura fertur.” (De Semine, ii.) “Simile ad suum simile tendit naturaliter.” (De Util. Resp.) (De Inaeq. Intemp.) These formulas do not, it is true, refer to the relation of drug and disease, but they are the acknowledgment of an attraction of likes to likes in nature, (Very similar to the principle by which Bacon attempted to account for some of the phenomena of what we now call gravitation. (Nov. Org., lib. i. ixvi.)) which, might be extended to therapeutics, and he does actually occasionally recognise the homoeopathic law in the treatment of disease. Thus we find him saying, “Nam sicuti humidiora natura humidiora, sicciora sicciora medicamenta exigebat: ita nunc calidior calidiora, frigidior frigidior requirere, contrariam scilicet semper iis, quae praeter naturam, et iis quae secundum naturam sunt, indicationem praestantibus: quippe, quae secundum naturam sunt, similia sibi indicativa sunt: quae praeter naturam, contrariorum, si modo illa servari, haec submoveri necesse est.” (Method. Medendi., lib. iii.) Again, speaking of the specific virtues of certain medicines, he says: “Pharmacum attrahit determinatum humorem similitudine, seu proprietate substantiae,” This passage certainly admits of different interpretations; but his commentator Fallopius attaches quite a homoeopathic meaning to the sentence. “Galenus,” he says, “per similitudinem substantiae intelligit naturam quandam corpoream, habentem tale temperamentum, quod parum distet a temperamento illius quod attrahitur;” and with this maxim Fallopius not only expresses his entire concurrence, but says, with still greater explicitness, “Supponendum a vobis est, quod dico adesse quidam similitudinem substantiae inter attrahens, et id quod attrahitur, non autem identitatem.” The meaning of which is that the quality (temperamentum) of the medicine must correspond in similarity to the quality of the disease, and also of its product, though they must not be identical.

The next name of importance as an authority in the medical art whom we find distinctly enunciating the principle of homoeopathy, is the author who wrote under the pseudonyme of Basil Valentine, a Benedictine monk it is believed, who lived about the year 1410, in the convent of St. Peter at Erfurt. His words are : “Likes must be cured by means of their likes, and not by their contraries, as heat by heat, cold by cold, shooting by shooting; for one heat attracts the other to itself, one cold the other, as the magnet does the iron. Hence prickly simples can remove diseases whose characteristic is prickly pains; and poisonous minerals can cure and destroy symptoms of poisoning when they are brought to bear upon them. And although sometimes a chill may be removed and suppressed, still I say, as a philosopher and one experienced in nature’s ways, that the similar must be fitted with its similar, whereby it will be removed radically and thoroughly, if I am a proper physician and understand medicine. He who does not attend to this is no true physician, and cannot boast of his knowledge of medicine, because he is unable to distinguish betwixt cold and warm, betwixt dry and humid, for knowledge and experience, together with a fundamental observation of nature, constitute the perfect physician.

(De Microcosm).

Theophrastus von Hohenheim, commonly known by the name of Paracelsus, who flourished in the sixteenth century, was a reformer of much the same character as Hahnemann, and though his doctrines never obtained for him the same number of followers as Hahnemann has, and though the school he founded soon perished and disappeared, and his name was only remembered as that of a great charlatan, this was not owing to the unsoundness of the therapeutic doctrines he enunciated, which scarcely differed from many of those of Hahnemann; but the ephemeral character of is school was owing to the want of an express foundation for his therapeutic maxims in that great and signal merit of his modern rival, pure experimentation, or the proving of medicines on the healthy. I say an express foundation; for though, as I shall presently show, Paracelsus alludes to, he scarcely insists on the necessity of, pure physiological experimentation, giving no directions how it is to be carried out, and leaving its necessity rather to be inferred than enjoined. With a vigour equal to that of Hahnemann, he attacked the absurd methods of treatment prevalent in his time, for he saw as clearly as Hahnemann the defects of the ancient system, which, however, his assaults failed to overthrow; for the accusations he brings against the physicians of his age might be repeated of those of the present day, and were in fact re-echoed by our modern reformer. I may give a specimen of the mode in which he ridiculed the practice of the day, whereby you may judge of the resemblance betwixt his writings and those of Hahnemann “Suppose,” says he, “the case of a patient sick of a fever, which ran a course of twelve weeks and then ended; there are two kinds of physicians to treat it, the false and the true. The false one deliberately, and at his ease, sets about physicking; he dawdles away much time with his syrups and his laxatives, his purgatives and gruel, with barley-water, his juleps, and such- like rubbish. He goes to work slowly-takes his time to it-gives an occasional clyster to pass the time pleasantly, and creeps along at his ease, and cajoles the patient with his soft words until the disease has reached its termination, and then he attributes the spontaneous cessation of the fever to the influence of his art. But the true physician proceeds to work in a different manner. The natural course of the disease he divides into twelve parts, and his work is limited to one part and a half.

R.E. Dudgeon
Robert Ellis Dudgeon 1820 – 1904 Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1839, Robert Ellis Dudgeon studied in Paris and Vienna before graduating as a doctor. Robert Ellis Dudgeon then became the editor of the British Journal of Homeopathy and he held this post for forty years.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon practiced at the London Homeopathic Hospital and specialised in Optics.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon wrote Pathogenetic Cyclopaedia 1839, Cure of Pannus by Innoculation, London and Edinburgh Journal of Medical Science 1844, Hahnemann’s Organon, 1849, Lectures on the Theory & Practice of Homeopathy, 1853, Homeopathic Treatment and Prevention of Asiatic Cholera 1847, Hahnemann’s Therapeutic Hints 1847, On Subaqueous Vision, Philosophical Magazine, 1871, The Influence of Homeopathy on General Medical Practice Since the Death of Hahnemann 1874, Repertory of the Homeopathic Materia Medica, 2 vols 1878-81, The Human Eye Its Optical Construction, 1878, Hahnemann’s Materia Medica Pura, 1880, The Sphygmograph, 1882, Materia Medica: Physiological and Applied 1884, Hahnemann the Founder of Scientific Therapeutics 1882, Hahnemann’s Organon 1893 5th Edition, Prolongation of Life 1900, Hahnemann’s Lesser Writing.