“The overlord requests your presence,” Hanni told Melaia. “Right away.” She poured the golden potion into a small vial and handed it to Melaia.
“Is he ill?” Melaia swirled the vial.
“Probably his stomach again. Take him that saffroot potion. But it’s your music he’s requested. You know how it soothes him.”
Melaia nodded. Music seemed to be an antidote to the cares that racked the overlord. He was one of her favorite patients. Not so his son, Yareth. The arrogant, moon-pale young man made her skin crawl. She hoped Yareth, feigning illness, hadn’t asked his father to call for the chantress.
People who lived in ancient times didn’t know about bacteria or viruses, and though they studied the body, they had limited knowledge about how it worked. Many of the first doctors were also priests who added magical rites, incantations, and prayers to their cures. In Egypt the priests collected healing herbs from around the world to cultivate in their temple gardens. Famous for their skill, Egyptian physician-priests were sometimes sent to other nations to serve as healers for foreign kings and their families.
Around 300 BCE, the Greeks set up a medical school in Alexandria, Egypt, where would-be physicians studied in libraries and labs. Rome also imported Greek doctors, who were so highly valued that they were granted Roman citizenship under Julius Caesar. Rome established hospitals as well, at first to serve their army. But to find a doctor, you had to go to a big city, because few of them served outlying areas.
In reality anyone could claim to be a doctor. Most physicians trained simply by watching a more experienced doctor at work. Doctors could usually set broken bones, remove arrowheads, and amputate when necessary. They lanced boils, stitched wounds, and even drilled holes in skulls to relieve pressure. Doctors sometimes removed bladder stones. But in any case, surgery was a last resort.
One of the most difficult conditions to treat was blindness, which was common in the ancient world, because most people worked outdoors and had no protection from the sun’s glare. Flies swarmed everywhere and spread germs, and people didn’t know to avoid rubbing their eyes with dirty hands. What’s more, with unpaved roads, it was easy to get dust in your eyes. Doctors tried to treat damaged eyes with salves, but there was not much more they could do, although one doctor claimed to be able to cure cataracts by putting liver on the eyes. (Sounds like a Lady Gaga stunt to me.)
In the section of Breath of Angel that I quoted above, the priestesses discuss two types of healing used in the ancient world: herbs and music, both of which are still used today. Speaking of today, we might do well to take a look at the ancient Roman health care system. Doctors were not taxed on the income they received from wealthy patients if they would treat the poor for free.
So go forth, wear sunglasses, don’t rub your eyes with dirty hands . . . and if you try the liver, be sure to get a photo. You could become famous.