Translated by Francis Adams
Medicine is of all the Arts the most noble; but, not withstanding,
owing to the ignorance of those who practice it, and of those who,
inconsiderately, form a judgment of them, it is at present far behind
all the other arts. Their mistake appears to me to arise principally
from this, that in the cities there is no punishment connected with
the practice of medicine (and with it alone) except disgrace, and
that does not hurt those who are familiar with it. Such persons are
like the figures which are introduced in tragedies, for as they have
the shape, and dress, and personal appearance of an actor, but are
not actors, so also physicians are many in title but very few in reality.
Whoever is to acquire a competent knowledge of medicine, ought to
be possessed of the following advantages: a natural disposition; instruction;
a favorable position for the study; early tuition; love of labor;
leisure. First of all, a natural talent is required; for, when Nature
opposes, everything else is in vain; but when Nature leads the way
to what is most excellent, instruction in the art takes place, which
the student must try to appropriate to himself by reflection, becoming
an early pupil in a place well adapted for instruction. He must also
bring to the task a love of labor and perseverance, so that the instruction
taking root may bring forth proper and abundant fruits .
Instruction in medicine is like the culture of the productions of
the earth. For our natural disposition is, as it were, the soil; the
tenets of our teacher are, as it were, the seed; instruction in youth
is like the planting of the seed in the ground at the proper season;
the place where the instruction is communicated is like the food imparted
to vegetables by the atmosphere; diligent study is like the cultivation
of the fields; and it is time which imparts strength to all things
and brings them to maturity.
Having brought all these requisites to the study of medicine, and
having acquired a true knowledge of it, we shall thus, in traveling
through the cities, be esteemed physicians not only in name but in
reality. But inexperience is a bad treasure, and a bad fund to those
who possess it, whether in opinion or reality, being devoid of self-reliance
and contentedness, and the nurse both of timidity and audacity. For
timidity betrays a want of powers, and audacity a want of skill. There
are, indeed, two things, knowledge and opinion, of which the one makes
its possessor really to know, the other to be ignorant.
Those things which are sacred, are to be imparted only to sacred persons;
and it is not lawful to import them to the profane until they have
been initiated in the mysteries of the science.