Physician, heal thyself

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Physician, heal thyself (Greek: Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόνIatre, therapeuson seauton), sometimes quoted in the Latin form Medice, cura te ipsum, is a proverb used from the time of Greek playwright Aeschylus (c. 525/524 – c. 456/455 BC) onward to the point of incongruity. In lines 473–5 of Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound, the chorus berate Prometheus, saying that

"Like some inferior doctor who's become ill / You're in despair and are unable to discover / By what medicine you yourself can be cured."

The concept is that of a sick doctor who has at his disposal the means to relieve the suffering of others but not his own suffering, in other words, a chastising of someone who gives a moral directive that they do not apply to themselves.[1]

The Christian disciple Luke (who was a physician himself, [2]) quotes Jesus as referring to this Greek proverb in in Luke 4:23.

23 Then he said, "You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: 'Physician, heal yourself'—meaning, 'Do miracles here in your home town like those you did in Capernaum.'"

The usual interpretation of this passage is that, during the Rejection of Jesus, Jesus expected to hear natives of his home town of Nazareth use this phrase to criticize him.[3]

The moral of the proverb is counsel to attend to one's own defects rather than criticizing defects in others,[4] a sentiment also expressed in the discourse on judgmentalism.

The Latin form of the proverb, Cura te ipsum, was made famous in the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, and is a shortening of the phrase medice, cura te ipsum.

Some commentators[who?] claim that the proverb is also an echo of the insults that he would hear while hanging on the cross, that is, the words may be interpreted as echoing the taunts to come down from the cross himself.[5]

Similar proverbs can be found in other classical and Jewish literature.[6] "Physician, Physician, Heal thine own limp!" can be found in Genesis Rabbah 23:4.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glad, Clarence E. (1995). Paul and Philodemus: Adaptability in Epicurean and Early Christian Psychagogy. Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. 21-22. ISBN 1589835026. 
  2. ^ Colossians 4:14
  3. ^ Martin, Gary. "Physician, heal thyself". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  4. ^ E. D. Hirsch, Jr.; Joseph F. Kett; James Trefil, eds. (2002). "Physician, heal thyself". The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-22647-8. OCLC 50166721. Archived from the original on 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  5. ^ Matthew 27:42 - He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
    Mark 15:31 - Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
    Luke 23:35 - And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided [him], saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.
  6. ^ Nolland, J. (1979). Classical and Rabbinic Parallels to “Physician, Heal Yourself”. p. 193-209. 
  7. ^ Freedman, H., Simon, Maurice. Midrash Rabbah, Translated into English., vol 1, pg 195
Physician, heal thyself
Preceded by
Samaritan woman at the well
New Testament
Succeeded by
Calling of Matthew