Friday, 14 September 2012

Renaissance Universities

I taught History of Medicine on Tuesday, 11 September 2012 to 200+ medical students in Year 1 in Dewan Kuliah 1 (DK1). InsyaAllah, I will have another 6 lectures in 6 years time before I retire at 60. That's how old I am today.

What did I teach this time? This time around I only had 1 hour. I covered the various civilisations in human history and touched on medicine where possible. Otherwise it was just mythology and magic potions.

I covered in sequence: ancient Egyptian civilisation, Greek civilisation, Roman civilisation, Arab civilisation,  and Renaissance. I mentioned Spain, Iran, Iraq and the Middle-East in passing as I had not much time. I also pointed out the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century discoveries in medicine.

For ancient Egypt, I covered the Pharaohs (Fir'aun). I mentioned they had the Book of the Dead that described procedures for preparing the dead for burial as mummies. I mentioned that the ancient Egyptians slit open the torso and took out the internal organs and placed them in canopy jars. (A lot of reactions from the students.) Then they replace the cavity with salt and sewed the torso and prepared them as mummies, to be stowed in sarcophagus, tombs or coffins. The interesting here was the use of scalpel to slit open the torso. I asked the students to identify the scalpel but in the illustration I showed the students, the scalpel looked like giant walking sticks (tongkat) or crochet needles. LOL

For ancient Greece, I mentioned that the Greeks were steeped in mythology and have more than 40 gods and goddesses. I named some of the gods & goddess, of course with tongue-twister names, it was a lot of laughter. There was a family of god & goddesses of medicine and healing. Asclepius married Lampetia (goddess) and they had 4 daughters (goddesses). For the capital of Greece, I mentioned Athena and showed them her statue, pole and serpent that would around her pole. I also mentioned the Greeks believed Athena metamorphed into an owl and was often depicted as an owl in images of ancient Greece. I mentioned the Acropolis and the Pantheon where the Greek prayed to their gods & goddesses. The renovated Pantheon still has many Doric columns, and pointed to the students how Malaysian have copied and lived the glory of the ancient Greek Pantheon in their very homes. Almost every modern Malaysian home today has 2 Doric columns in front; some have them inside the homes too. Pantheon was the prayer place while Pathenos meant barren or infertile. I elaborated the differences with "you don't ask your friend, "Are you pathenos while your friend prays in the Pantheon." There was a lot of laughter after that. I mentioned 2 Greeks - Hippocrates and Galen. Hippocrates was the village doctor who practised under a tree in Kos. He was the man who founded concepts used since his time and up till now in modern medicine. Galen went to Alexandria and learned Anatomy from the Egyptians who were highly skilled. He also made lots of medicinal mixtures and wrote about their uses. Galen also returned to Greece but went on to work for the Gladiators in Rome. I queried the students about the Gladiators - they were okay.

The Arabs learned about medicine from the Greeks. I emphasized that the word Arab is a misnomer and incorrectly used by historians and almost everyone. The Arabs have 'al' name for objects and 'Al' suffix for clan name or surname. The non Arabs do not have 'Al' as name suffix. That alone should tell us whether an ancient man was an Arab or a non Arab. I also corrected the general understanding of what constitutes Arabic medicine, Islamic medicine and Prophetic medicine. Besides the Arabs and Iranians or Persians, there were Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, etc. The students have heard of Avicenna and they could read up on their own. They can also read up on the Golden Age of Islamic medicine in these countries. I mentioned Al-Qurrawiyun University as the oldest university and the first to offer medicine. University of Al-Azhar only adopted medicine in 1965 which is still quite recent. I mentioned some of the places in Spain and they can read up.

I covered Renaissance Europe. At the time, Europeans were fighting over land ownership and there were a lot of wars and battles. France moved north towards England and Normandy signifies French influences. The churches were active in keeping up with medicine. Popes became barbers and surgeons. Univerisities sprung up in Europe. These included Oxford University and Cambridge University. So these 2 universities (and others) are ancient centres of tertiary learning. I also covered the discoveries made in Europe (a lot of slides).

I did not cover Chinese, Indian and Malay medicine nor their history as time was limited.

Graduate Studies @USM

IPS = Institut Pengajian Siswazah (Malay) / Institute of Graduate Studies

IPS Dean:
Prof. Roshada Hashim
Dean, Institute of Graduate Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), 11800 Penang, Malaysia
Phone: +604-653-2930 Fax: +604-653-2931 E-mail:



USM 46th Convocation Ceremony
19-23 September 2012
Dewan Tuanku Syed Putra

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Dewan Tuanku Syed Putra, USM