Health is a timeless, universal benefit. In the Platonic dialogue Gorgias, Socrates quotes a drinking song of the 6th or 5th c. BC, according to which health is the greatest good a man can have (“ὑγιαίνειν μὲν ἄριστόν ἐστιν”). Other goods enumerated in this song are “to have become beautiful, and third is to be wealthy without fraud”. According to the poet Menander (4th c. BC), “there is nothing better in life than good health” (“οὐκ ἔσθ’ ὑγιείας κρεῖττον οὐδέν ἐν βίῳ”).
Hippocratic physicians emphasized the importance of diet in maintaining health as well as in treating disease. In antiquity, the word diet was not limited strictly to food (no. 1), as it is nowadays; it expressed a broader concept, which also encompassed – and always in moderation – drink, physical exercise, baths, massages, sleep, sexuality, and a person’s habits and way of life in general. Moreover, the ancient Greek verb diaitomai, the source of the word diet, means to live in a specific way.
Equally important to protecting health was cleanliness on an individual level, as well as on the level of the broader social group, the city. Public health was a concern from as early as the prehistoric period, as evidenced by the amenities in the Minoan palaces of Crete: they had very good lighting and ventilation, aqueducts with terracotta pipes, sewer systems, baths, and other sanitary facilities.
Ancient references to healthy living – the Hippocratic treatises On Airs, Waters, and Places and On Regimen, for example, which emphasize how much the natural environment and general lifestyle influence health – are corroborated in this section by various archaeological finds, such as: vases with scenes of personal hygiene that depict not only men washing in fountain structures but also prostitutes ensuring the cleanliness of their well-used bodies
The construction of large fountain structures, fed by aqueducts carrying running water from distant locations to the urban nuclei, occurred in the context of public hygiene during the Archaic period (6th c. BC). Typical examples are the Eupalinian Aqueduct on Samos, the Fountain of Theagenes in Megara, as well as the ambitious public water system constructed in Athens at the end of the 6th c. BC, during the period of the tyrant Peisistratos and his successors, as indicated by the terracotta water pipe segments of the water supply conduit.
Private dwellings occasionally possessed running water and toilets. The elimination needs of the urban population were met by chamber pots (variously called amides, skoramides, lassana), whose contents were emptied into cesspits, the koprones. Private professionals, the koprologoi undertook to transport waste outside the cities; this was subsequently used as fertilizer in the fields.
During the Hellenistic period, latrines began to make their appearance in public buildings such as gymnasia and thermae. However, public latrines are a characteristic of Roman urban culture.
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