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Ancient Greek Scientist Erasistratus Was the King’s Lie Detector

Erasistratus discovers the cause of the illness of Antiochus. Painting by Jacques-Louis David. Public Domain

Ancient Greek scientist Erasistratus (300-250 B.C.) is credited with being among the first human lie detectors. He devised a specific technique to read a person’s physical response so as to spot when an individual was lying.

While in Alexandria, Egypt, he is said to have proven Prince Antiochus was desperately in love with his father’s new wife, Stratonice. He noted how his pulse increased significantly whenever the queen’s name was mentioned, despite his insistence that he did not have the hots for his stepmother.

Love-struck, he fell ill with passion and chose to pine away in silence. The physicians were unable to discover the cause and nature of his disease.

Erasistratus himself was at a loss at first, until, finding nothing amiss about his body, he began to suspect that it must be the man’s mind that was diseased and that he might perhaps be in love.

Erasistratus confirmed his conjecture when he observed that the skin of Antiochus grew hotter, his color deeper, and his pulse quicker whenever Stratonice came near him, while none of these symptoms occurred on any other occasion.

The Greek physician eventually told the father, King Seleucus, that his son’s disease was incurable, for he was in love with the monarch’s wife and that he chose to die rather than to disclose his secret.

According to the anecdote, Seleucus not only gave up Stratonice, but also resigned to his son several provinces of his empire.

Erasistratus founded school of anatomy in Alexandria

Erasistratus, along with fellow physician Herophilus, founded a school of anatomy in Alexandria where they carried out anatomical research.

He is credited for his description of the valves of the heart. He also concluded that the heart was not the center of sensations. Instead, he said, it functioned as a pump. He was among the first to distinguish between veins and arteries, believing that arteries were full of air and carried the “animal spirit” (pneuma).

Together with Herophilus, he is credited by historians as the potential founder of neuroscience due to his acknowledgment of nerves and their roles in motor control through the brain and skeletal muscles.

Furthermore, Erasistratus is seen as one of the first physicians/scientists to conduct recorded dissections and potential vivisections alongside Herophilus.

The two physicians were said by several Roman authors, notably, Augustine, Celsus, and Tertullian, to have performed controversial vivisections on criminals to study the anatomy and possible physiology of human organs while they were in Alexandria.

Related: Ancient Library of Alexandria One of Greatest Treasures of Mankind

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