58. Acron (Fifth Century BC)

Physician born at Agrigentum. His exact birth date is not known. However, as he was contemporary with Empedocles, who died about the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, he must have lived in the fifth century BC.

Son of the philosopher Xenon of Elea, Acron, still young, moved to Athens with Empedocles to study philosophy and rhetoric. After completing his studies, Acron established himself as skilled orator. His public lessons of rhetoric and his oratory skills brought him admiration and fame among fellow citizens.

Acron then directed his talent to medical studies and traveled to Egypt and Asia to collect as much information from the experiences of the priests and doctors he came across. His talent as a doctor and his new approach to medicine won him such esteem he was given the epithet of high or highest among physicians (the same name, Acrone, means high).

However in the same way, the fame brought him many enemies, among them Empedocles, his countryman and boyhood friend, who envied his success. Diogenes Laertius tells us that Acron asked the citizens of Agrigentum to have a parcel of land as a place where he could set a family tomb as a reward of his merits. Empedocles used all his eloquence to ensure that this privilege would not be granted. Despite these objections, the citizens readily agreed to Acton’s requests. On the tombstone was engraved an ironic epitaph attributed to Empedocles and dedicated to Acron,

“Acron (which means also “high”), the highest among physicians, the son of a high family, lying in this high cliff of his high country.”

In Sicily Acron founded a medical school founded on the concrete experience of facts and the rejection of all that could not be proved empirically. He devoted much of his life to the fight against the philosophers and physicians of the time, accusing them of having reduced medicine to metaphysics and have it subject to philosophical speculations. He argued that medicine should depend exclusively on pure experience and that all abstract speculations were not only unnecessary, but also harmful.

None of Acron’s works are now available as they were destroyed during the fire of the Library of Alexandria. A few titles are preserved in writings by Suda and Eudocia.

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