Whoosh! Issue 22 - July 1998


IAXS project #509
By Melissa Comette
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1304 words

Hippocrates and the Xenaverse (01-02)
By the Gods (03-05)
Misogyny and Secrecy (06-07)
Dress and Decorum (08-11)
Conclusion (12)

Would Xena Have Approved Of Hippocrates' Oath?
Probably Not!

I had a cousin on a flag once who said 'Don't Tread on Me'

The logo of the American Medical Association.

Hippocrates and the Xenaverse

[1] In the Xena: Warrior Princess episode, IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124), the Xenaverse was introduced to Hippocrates, the ancient healer who established the first recorded school of medicine and medical ethics in Western Civilization [Note 01]. In true XWP style, the episode suggested that Xena and her healing arts were the true inspiration for the renowned "Hippocratic Oath", which has been a part of physician graduation ceremonies for the past 2500 years, give or take a century.

[2] Never one to question the historical accuracy of XWP, I felt the true question brought to light by the episode is whether or not Xena would have approved of the oath and the accompanying collection of texts produced by the Hippocratic school. The following is a random selection of excerpts from the corpus of Hippocratic works that may not have been entirely sanctioned by the Warrior Princess.

By the Gods

You are HEALED.  I say you are HEALED!  Are you paying attention?

Galen believed more in prayer than in practical medicine.

[3] In Xena's eyes, it would not seem to bode well for Hippocrates' approval rating that he began his oath by swearing to the gods: "I swear by Apollo Physician, by Asclepias, by Health, by Panacea and by all the gods and goddesses..." [Note 02]. Xena never was one to swear by the gods, and she made it clear to Hippocrates, and to his teacher Galen, that she did not trust the gods' help in any way, shape or form when healing:

GALEN Mighty Asclepias, we beseech you and trust in thy healing powers to make this man whole again. XENA The gods don't care if these people live or die [Note 03].

[4] We can ascribe the swearing to the gods as peer pressure. After all, it was written in ancient Greece. They did need to appeal to a higher power, and Xena would not give them permission to swear to her (not that it would not have been a great idea):

XENA (glancing toward Gabrielle) I'm not so wise. I make plenty of mistakes. (turns back toward Hippocrates) There's a lot about me you shouldn't emulate [Note 04].

[5] Unfortunately, when digging deeper into the texts of Hippocratic work we find the statement, "The gods are the real physicians, though people do not think so." [Note 05] Clearly, someone with a quick quill and not nearly enough respect for Xena's cynicism got unauthorized access to a Hippocratic scroll.

Misogyny and Secrecy

[6] Moving on in the oath, the notion of secrecy and an "old boys club" is firmly established within the medical community with the statement "to impart instruction [of the healing arts], written, oral and practical to my sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the physician's oath, but to no one else" [Note 06]. Hmmm, I just cannot imagine that Hippocrates would have received Xena's endorsement for instituting either the exclusively male domain of medicine, or the exclusionary nature of its instruction and practice. In the body of the Hippocratic texts exclusionary practices are extended to encompass all laymen, including patients. The physician was exhorted to treat while "concealing most things from the patient while you are attending him...revealing nothing of the patient's future or present condition" [Note 07].

[7] The ancients loved their secret clubs, and medicine was no exception. Secret rites and practices inspired the veneration and respect of the group as a whole and of the individuals within it. However, medical men may have taken their own excellent opinion of themselves a little too far when proclaiming "...a physician who is a lover of wisdom is the equal of a god" [Note 08]. Sounds like someone definitely needed some good old-fashioned warrior b*tt-kicking to keep their sandals on the ground.

Dress and Decorum

I never told anyone this, but I *really* hate the sight of blood!

A young Hippocrates learns from Xena.

[8] On the issues of dress and decorum, Hippocrates definitely did not use the Destroyer of Nations as a role model. He recommends that physician garb be "decorous and simple, not over-elaborated, but aiming rather at good repute, and adapted for contemplation, introspection and walking" [Note 09]. It is doubtful that leather battle dress and metal breastplates could ever be considered "decorous and simple". However, it has been demonstrated, on many occasions, to be an excellent outfit for walking!

[9] Hippocrates also did not use his "mentor" as an example when he encouraged healers to be "...quick witted and affable, good tempered towards all..." [Note 10]. Those particular traits are possible evidence of Gabrielle's influence on Hippocrates' contemporary, Democritus, who was quite taken with the young bard in the episode:

DEMOCRITUS No, it was your voice and smile. It gave him a sense of peace. You have a remarkable gift for healing. GABRIELLE No, that's Xena's specialty. DEMOCRITUS When a man's in pain, his soul is in need of healing just as much as his body. That's what you did. It was a beautiful thing to watch. GABRIELLE (with a modest blush) Thank you. [Note 11]
[10] Democritus must have thought of the bard and encouraged the inclusion of being "graceful in speech, [and] gracious in disposition" as important qualities in a physician.

[11] This is not to say that Hippocrates did not esteem the Warrior Princess highly. Who else but Xena could have inspired the characterization of a good healer as being "serious, artless, sharp in encounters, ready to reply, stubborn in opposition... silent in face of disturbances... prepared for an opportunity and quick to take it... patient in waiting for an opportunity... strong in the reputation these qualities bring, [and] turning to the truth when a thing has been shown to be true" [Note 12]? That is all Xena.


[12] So, what can we conclude? Would Xena have approved of Hippocrates' oath? Probably not entirely, but the body of work produced by his school was a noble and important endeavor to instruct physicians on effective, scientific healing accompanied by appropriate ethics and etiquette. Hippocrates' work has survived over 2500 years because of more than simply academic interest. It is the tradition from which modern western medicine has evolved, and its imperfections are due more to the passage of time than to true malpractice. I am just glad Xena could be a part of it.


Note 01:
Kenny, Nuala P. "The Ethic of Care and the Patient-Physician Relationship." Annals RCPSC. Vol.27. No.6. September 1994.
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Note 02:
Hippocrates, Vol. I-IV. Translation by W.H.S. Jones. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1923.
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Note 03:
Shooting Script, dated 03/08/96, Xena: Warrior Princess, "Is There A Doctor In The House?" Written by Patricia Manney; Directed by T.J. Scott; Executive Producers Sam Raimi & Robert Tapert; Renaissance Pictures, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
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Note 04:
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Note 05:
Hippocrates, Vol. I-IV, Ibid.
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Note 06:
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Note 07:
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Note 08:
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Note 09:
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Note 10:
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Note 11:
Shooting script, Ibid.
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Note 12:
Hippocrates, Vol. I-IV, Ibid.
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Melissa Comette Melissa Comette
Melissa Comette B.Sc., is a 25-year-old medical student. Originally from Toronto, Ontario (Canada), Missy is currently studying at Dalhousie University Medical School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When she is not actively converting Xena non-believers, Missy likes to spend her free time going to movies, discovering new favorite restaurants, and going to aerobics or running in order to combat the effects of theater popcorn.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT I & II (52,53/306-307)
Favorite line: Xena: "There are no good choices [in war], only lesser degrees of evil" THE PRICE (44/220)
First episode seen: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Least favorite episode: KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308)

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