Labeling this page History really isn’t fair. It’s more interesting facts, at best, or stories more likely. We can’t promise all this is 100% true, but it’s a fun read.
484 BC Herodotus of Halicarnassus (it’s where he was born) proclaimed “Sun cure and sea cure are sovereign remedies for most diseases and particularly for women’s ailment.” And “The cures of sun and sea impose themselves on most illnesses.” Put this in context though. Herodotus is said to have been a master story teller of his time. In fact, some of his contemporaries gave him the name “The Father of History.” Others who probably didn’t like him as much called him “The Father of Lies.” We just like to think of him as fun guy who knew a thing or two about dips in the ocean. Here’s an interesting mention of him in the history books… According to Lucian of Samosata (we are guessing they didn’t use last names back then so it must have been cool let everyone know where you were born), Herodotus took his only known masterpiece, The Histories to the Olympic Games and read the entire thing to assembled spectators in one sitting, receiving rapturous applause when he finished. It was probably the figure skating equivalent of his day. No mention is made as to if he won gold, silver or bronze though.
In 420 BC Euripides says “The sea cures men’s diseases.” Of course, Euripides says a lot of things. In fact, he is credited with writing more than 90 plays, so it wasn’t all about the sea to him. No one knows quite how many though. It’s tough to keep track all the way back to the 5th century BC. In case you are wondering, for some reason Euripides doesn’t have a place to go with his name, or a last name, but he does have an asteroid named after him which we think makes him a real stand-up guy.
Hippocrates of Cos (450 BC to 380 BC) is often called the father of western medicine. And yes, this is where the Hippocratic Oath came from. So, Hippocrates knows a thing or two about doctor stuff. He advocated the use of salt water to heal various ailments by immersing patients in seawater. Here’s something else we learned. He also has a bench named after him. It’s called the Hippocratic Bench. No kidding, it’s true. Look it up if you don’t believe us. It’s kind of a bizarre looking device, but it did have a purpose. Nothing to do with swimming in the ocean, so we’ll leave the rest up to you. If you do head off to do research on this bench, don’t be surprised to also learn that many doctors back then didn’t wear much in the way of clothes when you came in for your appointment. Wow, we’ve certainly come a long ways since. Can you imagine…Hi doc, my elbow really hurts…whoa…
Cato the Elder (234 BC to 149 BC), and yes, there is a Cato the Younger, not a particularly attractive guy, but who did have quite an interesting life, reportedly served his slaves a mixture of wine and seawater. It not only made the slaves feel better after a long day of slaving, but Cato noticed that it restored their strength quicker than just a few hits on the wine jar.
Read more about Cato here, but you won’t find the wine and seawater story in this post.
Moving on in time, here’s something you probably didn’t know. Ambroise Paré was a renowned barber-surgeon, and considered to be one of the best in the 16th century. Yes, a barber-surgeon. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Back then, physicians considered surgery to be below them, so they left the work up to barbers. It’s great logic when you think about it. If you can cut hair, then you can probably also cut limbs…after all, barbers had all the necessary tools. No kidding, go look it up. You’ll find pictures of some of the tools used back then – that should be enough to make you thankful you’re alive today and not back then. It was pretty gruesome back in the day. Anyway, Mr. Pare was known for his inventive techniques in treating patients, mostly soldiers who had been injured in battle. He apparently figured out that a recipe made of egg yolk, oil of roses and turpentine would be better than boiling elderberry oil when treating gunpowder wounds. Who knew? Well, he is also credited with prescribing sea baths for their “astringent, reheating and hydrating properties.” Researching this also led to a particularly fun quote found on france-thalasso.com, where doctors, following the advice of Mr. Pare wrote: “On Tuesday 3rd of June 1578, King Henry III and the Queens, after dining at Adjacet, went to sleep in Ecouen and in Dieppe where the king, following advice from his doctors, bathed in the sea to heal the scabies that were tormenting him.” There is no mention of haircuts for the King in this particular passage.
Next up in the line of history, Charles Russel published his dissertation On the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands. Now, if dissertations aren’t hard enough, Dr. Russel actually wrote it in 1750 in Latin. Show off. It was titled De Tabe Glandulari. It was translated into English in 1752 and 6 editions of his writing were ultimately printed. Thanks to our friends at Google, you can actually read one of those remaining editions. Look it up in the Research section of our site. There are a great deal of interesting remedies of the times, all using sea water. There was almost nothing that Dr. Russell would come across that sea water wouldn’t make better. Should you get bitten by a mad dog for example, hurry on over to page 166, where you will also get advice on what to do for cat bites. An eruption upon the cheeks? Get on over to page 56. (Please consult your modern day physician should you be tempted by any of Dr. Russel’s remedies. Over here at Ocean Rescue, we’ve been fortunate to avoid mad dogs and eruptions of any kind.) We were a bit confused by the use of the letter f for s when it appears the letter s itself works perfectly well but maybe you know why they did that. We were immensely amused by this passage in the research. You will find it on page 305. What it has to do with sea water, we aren’t sure, but if you have need to boil tea, mutton chops, or bacon, you will certainly want to pay attention. And don’t forget to have a wet mop handy.
Now, among his other prolific writing, you will come across this: “One should drink sea water, bathe in it and eat every product of the sea in which its virtue is concentrated.” Beats the heck out the wet mops.
Various histories say that one John Lathan opened the first seaside hospital in 1791 for the treatment of anemia and infectious diseases. We aren’t sure about this. We can’t find anything on line to corroborate it so we have our doubts. There are a number of John Lathan’s out there who were physicians in this time period, but nothing about a seaside hospital. Take this one with a grain of sand. But, while looking, we did come across the Chailey Heritage Marine Hospital. It was built in 1924 as a place “to try to build strength up in the boys by the spartan conditions and sea bathing, not just for post-operative case or for “cripples”, but it was also used for asthma cases.” Plaques on the site where it stood refer to the Guild of the Poor Brave Things, which was a charitable foundation established to help disabled boys of the time.
That’s it for Ocean Rescue’s version of a brief and certainly incomplete history of mankind’s relationship with the sea for health purposes. If you have something for us to add, let us know and we’ll take a look.