Auricular Clyster, Otenchytes, and Pyoulcos: Precursors of the Ear Syringe

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Abstract

Objectives/Hypothesis:

In Western medicine, the long history of the ear syringe dates back at least to the end of the 1st millennium BCE; but the corresponding Ancient Greek word surinx designates another tool. Other Greek and Latin words and phrases, in particular auricular clyster, otenchytes, and pyoulcos, were known as names of the ear syringe until modern times. The aim of this article is to study the Greek and Latin words and phrases referred to as names of the ear syringe up until modern times before syringe became the standard word.

Method:

Historical and philological review of ancient Greek and Latin medical literature dealing with the subject.

Results:

Careful reading of ancient medical texts mentioning these tools shows a variety of shapes and uses: beside the piston-driven syringe, the system of a bladder attached to a catheter remained in use throughout Antiquity; the otenchytes, being a piston-driven syringe, obviously was not used to squirt the liquid when the remedy put inside was warmed by a flame; the piston-driven pyoulcos is most likely of greater size, and never linked with ear care in Antiquity.

Conclusion:

Latin auricular clyster and Greek otenchytes and pyoulcos, in the few ancient texts in which they occur, designate tools of a large variety of shapes and uses, significantly different from Heron's description of piston-driven pyoulcos.

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