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FA I TH


High water


As its title suggests, Hippocrates’s fourth-century treatise on Airs, Waters, Places includes much discussion of the health benefits of water. Written as a guide for itinerant physicians, the work recom- mends assessing a range of environmental factors when first arriving at a new location, in order to master ‘the particular diseases of the place’. Hippocrates considered that the best waters came from ‘high places and hilly grounds’.


The meaning of healing


Despite ongoing debates about the placebo response, a treatment cannot be separated from the meaning wrapped up in the interaction between the medical practitioner and patient, and the overall cultural context in which this encounter takes place. Research has shown that the level of empathy displayed by medical staff significantly affects the outcomes of chronic diseases. The power of suggestion is also clear: numerous


The myth of Bath


Stories of holy wells with the power to heal the sick are common around the world. Legend has it that the curative waters of Bath spa were found by the leprous son of a ninth-century BCE West-country king. According to a twelfth-century tale recounted in John Wood’s 1765 An Essay Toward a Description of Bath, the unfortunate youth became a swine- herd after he was banished from his home. His pigs became infected with his own sores, but were cured when they wallowed in the mud at a place where the ground never froze. When the swineherd immersed himself in the spot, he was saved; he returned to his family and later became king. He then founded the city of Bath at the site of his cure. This mythical story emphasises both the physical and social healing aspects of Bath’s waters.


studies report that believing a treatment will have a benefit (even if there is no intrinsic benefit in it) leads to more positive outcomes. Aside from their obvious appeal to adept advertisers, these findings prompt a fundamental ethical question around the administer- ing of placebos without informing the patient.


Ruins of Roman baths at Bath Photograph 1844 L0002624 Wellcome Images


A man self-administering hydrotherapy Lithograph with watercolour 11898i Wellcome Library


The text on this lithograph says: ‘Cure for a fever: sit in the water but and let the spout run on your head till you feel better.’


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