it weren't so true and ancient, this Definition
of Diabetes might be humorous. What is tragic is
that in nearly 2,000 years since it was written,
we have made so little progress in treatment or
cure work and still identify Diabetes Mellitus
in nearly the same terms!
following was written by Areteus the
Cappadocian, sometime in the second to third
is from Dorothy Clark's "Source Book of
Medical History," originally published in
1942, and republished in 1960 by Dover.
cites as her source a translation of a Greek
version done by Francis Adams in 1856 for the
Diabetes is a wonderful
affection, not very frequent among men, being a
melting down of the flesh and limbs into urine.
Its cause is of a cold and humid nature as in
The course is a common one,
namely the kidneys and bladder; for the patients
never stop making water, but the flow is
incessant, as if from the opening of aqueducts.
The nature of the
disease then is chronic, and it takes a long
period to form, but the patient is short-lived
if the constitution of the disease be completely
established; for the melting is rapid, the death
Moreover, life is disgusting
and painful; thirst unquenchable; excessive
drinking, which however is disproportionate to
the large quantity of urine for more urine is
passed; and one cannot stop them either from
drinking or making water. Or if for a time they
abstain from drinking, their mouth becomes
parched and their body dry; the viscera seem as
if scorched up; they are affected with nausea,
restlessness, and a burning thirst; and at no
distant term they expire, thirst as if scorched
But by what method could they
be restrained from making water? Or how can
shame become more potent than pain?
And even if they were
to restrain themselves for a short time they
become swelled in the loins, scrotum and hips;
and when they give vent they discharge the
collected urine, and the swellings subside for
the overflow passes to the bladder.
If the disease be fully
established, it is strongly marked; but if it be
merely coming on, the patients have the mouth
parched, saliva white, frothy, as if from thirst
(for the thirst is not yet confirmed), weight in
the hypochondriac region.
A sensation of heat or cold from
the stomach to the bladder is, as it were, the
advent of the approaching disease; they now make
a little more water than usual and there is
thirst but not yet great.
But, if it increase still
more, the heat is small indeed, but pungent, and
seated in the intestines; the abdomen shrivelled,
veins protuberant, general emaciation when the
quantity of urine and thirst have already
increased; and when, at the same time, the
sensation appears in the extremity of the
member, the patients immediately make water.
Hence the disease appears to
me to have got the name diabetes, as if from the
Greek word which signifies a siphon, because the
fluid does not remain in the body, but uses the
man's body as a bladder whereby to leave it.
They stand out for a certain time, though not
for very long for they pass urine with pain, and
the emaciation is dreadful; nor does any great
portion of the drink get into the system, and
many parts of the flesh pass out along with the
The cause of it may be that some
of the acute diseases may have terminated in
this; and during the crisis of the disease may
have left some malignity lurking in the part.
It is not improbable also, that
something pernicious, derived from other
diseases which attack the bladder and kidneys,
may sometimes prove the cause of this affection.
But if anyone is bit by the
dipsas [a species of viper] the affection
induced by the wound is of this nature; for the
reptile, the dipsas, if it bite one, kindles up
an unquenchable thirst. For they drink
copiously, not as a remedy for thirst, but so as
to produce repletion of the bowels, by the
insatiable desire of drink. But if one be pained
by the distention of the bowels and feel
uncomfortable, and abstain from drink for a
little, he again drinks copiously from thirst,
and thus the evils alternate; for the thirst and
the drink conspire together.
Others do no pass urine, nor is
their any relief from what is drank. Wherefore,
what from insatiable thirst, an overflow of
liquids, and distention of the belly, the
patients have suddenly burst.
affection of diabetes is a species of dropsy,
both in cause and condition, differing only in
the place by which the humour runs. For, indeed,
in ascites the receptacle is the peritoneum, and
it has no outlet, but remains there and
accumulates. But in diabetes, the flow of the
humour from the affected part and the melting
are the same, but the defluction is determined
to the kidneys and the bladder; and in dropsical
cases this is the outlet when the disease takes
a favorable turn; and it is good when it proves
a solution to the cause, and not merely a
lightening of the burden. In the latter disease
the thirst is greater; for the fluid running off
dries the body.
remedies for the stoppage of the melting are the
same as those for dropsy. For the thirst there
is need for a powerful remedy for in kind it is
the greatest of all sufferings; and when a fluid
is drunk it stimulates the discharge of urine;
and sometimes as it flows off it melts and
carries away with it particles of the body.
Medicines then which cure thirst are required,
for the thirst is great with an insatiable
desire of drink, so that no amount of fluid
would be sufficient to cure the thirst. We must,
then, by all means strengthen the stomach, which
is the fountain of the thirst. When, therefore,
you have purged with the hiera, use as Epithemes
the nard, mastich, dates, and raw quinces; the
juice of these with nard and rose oil is very
good for lotions; their pulp with mastich and
dates, form a cataplasm....
But the water used as drink is
to be boiled with autumn fruit. The food is to
be milk, and with it cereals, starch, groats of
spelt, gruels. Astringent wines to give tone to
the stomach, and these but little diluted, in
order to dissipate and clear away the other
humours; for thirst is engendered by saltish