Greek Mythology Offers Clues About Ancient Neonatal Care
Posted Sep 23 2009 10:14pm
A new analysis has determined that ancient Greeks may have had considerable knowledge about how to care for premature babies, evidence of which is present in Greek mythology that describes of the birth of the god Dionysus.
According to a report by Athens News Agency, the analysis was done by doctors from Agios Savvas oncological hospital in Athens, working in collaboration with private colleagues in Hania.
The results of the analysis were presented at the 15th Hellenic Conference on Perinatal Medicine taking place in Thessaloniki.
In an essay entitled "Mythological description of an incubator", the doctors said that the description given in ancient myths of the birth of the god Dionysus and how he was cared for very closely approximates the requirements for an incubator used in modern hospitals.
According to some versions of the myth, Dionysus was born prematurely in the eighth month of pregnancy and had a low birth weight.
He was carried by the god Hermes to Mount Nysa and delivered into the care of the Hyades, the nymphs of warm rain, that placed him in a cave having all the requirements of an incubator - an air filter, double lining and protection from draughts.
The ancient myth-makers did not, of course, describe technological appliances or fixtures but rather natural items that appear to serve an equivalent purpose.
The 'air filter' is a stand of pines planted by the Hyades at the entrance of the cave, the 'double lining' is formed by the branches of a virgin vine and the small god is protected from draughts by a covering of thick-leaved ivy.
Combined, these served to maintain a warm and slightly moist - in other words thermically neutral - environment for the newborn.
The above is all in the realm of myth and may only indicate a flight of the imagination by some bolder story-teller of antiquity, rather than evidence that the ancients knew how to care for premature babies.
According to the doctors, however, it would be a strange coincidence if the makers of the myth had hit upon the requirements needed without this knowledge having arisen from some specific experience or practice of the time.