Station: [15] History of Ideas

Probably the smallest room in our pharmacy is the one that was formerly used for night duty. Even now, minimum standards require a pharmacy to have a dispensary, a laboratory, a store room and a night duty room, to be used when the pharmacy is providing an emergency service.

In here, the display is about the changing interaction between medicine and pathology. We want to trace the history of medication from antiquity to the present day. Please come in. 

Your journey through history begins in antiquity. At the time, the thinking revolved around the Hippocratic doctrine of the humours, which goes something like this: 

Health is a balance of the four humours – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. By contrast, disease occurs when that balance is upset. The physician's task was to restore the imbalance of the humours by means of medicines, dietetics or even surgery.

Your journey continues via the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, when the focus shifted to examining traditional ancient medicine with a critical eye. The doctrine of signatures, already widespread in antiquity, gained in significance. As mentioned earlier, this was the belief that the external characteristics of substances revealed their inherent healing properties. No doubt you remember the story of the fox's tooth, which was supposed to help against stab wounds.

The teachings of Paracelsus continued to have an impact until the Baroque era. Paracelsus was a pioneer of chemical medicine, or iatrochemistry, where medicines such as mercury and salts were obtained by means of chemical or alchemical processes. At the same time, a strange aberration in medicine known as "dirt pharmacy" gained in importance – this was the use of human and animal excrement and excretory products for healing purposes.

Passing through the Age of Enlightenment, we arrive in the 19th century, the time when Samuel Hahnemann founded classical homeopathy. Hahnemann wanted medicinal substances to be tested on healthy people. And he developed the Principle of Similarity, also known as the Simile. This states that similar substances cure similar disorders. As a corollary, a disease can be cured by medicinal substances that cause comparable symptoms in a healthy body. Hahnemann believed a medicine was rendered more effective if you reduced the dose – by diluting or potentiating it. To this day, homeopathy remains probably one of the most controversial of healing methods.

All depictions: © Trüpschuch