Living History – Hippocrates’ Sycamore Reborn in Michigan
Hippocrates, ‘the Father of Medicine,’ taught his students while seated under a sycamore tree. That tree lived for centuries and was famed as the place where Western medicine was born. Although the original no longer lives, a cutting from it has been brought to life and now grows in northern Michigan. This is not the first cutting from the famous tree to be planted abroad; the original tree has itself given way to a cutting taken from itself, making the Calumet tree a grandchild of the famous tree. Other cuttings have taken root on medical school campuses, appropriately enough, and grow to become living symbols of the first medical school classroom.
Their sometimes millennial lifespans make trees living witnesses to history. Other famous trees that have survived the centuries to stand as markers of famous pasts include the ‘Major Oak‘ under which Robin Hood and his outlaw band used to gather and ‘Tree of One Hundred Horses,’ a Sicilian Chestnut which has lived for perhaps 4,000 years on the slope of Mt. Etna, only eight kilometers from the volcano’s mouth. Legend has it that a troop of 100 horsemen took shelter under its’ branches during a thunderstorm. It is a candidate for the largest tree, by girth, on Earth.
The Cedars of Lebanon were already famous when the Epic of Gilgamesh was composed near the end of third millennium, B.C. Some of the oldest denizens of Lebanon’s slopes may well have looked down on Gilgamesh as he passed by them in their youth. As the elders of the remaining stands of this once-vast wood matured, they saw their neighbors taken to build Solomon’s Temple, watched Alexander’s Macedonians pass by, and continued t as they aged o have a front-row seat to history being made in that region of the world that seems forever to make headline news.
Many other examples of famous trees come easily to mind. These examples are meant to show that history lives in them, as it was often made under their boughs, and we can stand beneath them today, on ground shaded by the same witness as when it first came to fame. With transplants like the one now taking root in Calumet, one need not even travel to the Greek islands to experience something of this; a scion of the original may be close to home. This writer looks forward to visiting the Hippocratic Sycamore on his next visit to Calumet, and while it will be the shores of Lake Superior before him, it will be easy enough for imagination to take flight, and for a moment he’ll be in ancient Kos, where this tree’s life and fame began.