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Eur Respir J. 1994 Dec;7(12):2234-40.

The earliest history of diaphragm physiology.

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Service de Pneumologie, Groupe Hospitalier Pitié-Salpêtrière, Paris, France.


The diaphragm was recognized as a distinct anatomical structure in the earliest Greek writings. However, the precise description of wounds suffered by warriors during the Trojan war by Homer was not tied to any particular function. The diaphragm was assimilated to the region that harbours thought. The first physiologic explanations of respiration by Empedocles in the 5th century BC and the concepts introduced by Plato and Hippocrates did not include a significant participation of the diaphragm. Aristole was the first to link respiration to a particular organ and a specific movement of the thorax. However, he considered that it was the heart which caused the lungs to expand by heating them, and the lungs in turn forced the thorax to dilate, a concept which was to survive until the 17th century. As in Aristole's theory the diaphragm played no role in respiration and was just a fence separating the thorax from the abdomen. A major break through occurred in Alexandria in the 4th and 3rd century BC: Herophilus was the first to recognize that muscles were the agents of movement and Erasistratus performed animal experiments which showed that the respiratory muscles were the agents of respiratory movements, thus opening the way to the later discoveries of Galen.

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