Greek mythology: the eye, ophthalmology, eye disease, and blindness

Greek mythology: the eye, ophthalmology, eye disease, and blindness

By Constantinos Trompoukis and Dimitrios Kourkoutas

Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology, Vol.42:3 (2007)

Background: In distant eras, mythology was a form of expression used by many peoples. A study of the Greek myths reveals concealed medical knowledge, in many cases relating to the eye.

Methods: An analysis was made of the ancient Greek texts for mythological references relating to an understanding of vision, visual abilities, the eye, its congenital and acquired abnormalities, blindness, and eye injuries and their treatment.

Results: The Homeric epics contain anatomical descriptions of the eyes and the orbits, and an elementary knowledge of physiology is also apparent. The concept of the visual field can be seen in the myth of Argos Panoptes. Many myths describe external eye disease (“knyzosis”), visual disorders (amaurosis), and cases of blinding that, depending on the story, are ascribed to various causes. In addition, ocular motility abnormalities, congenital anomalies (cyclopia), injuries, and special treatments, such as the “licking” method, are mentioned.

Interpretation: The study of mythological references to the eye reveals reliable medical observations of the ancient Greeks, which are concealed within the myths.

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