Bottoms Up! A Pathologist's Essays on Medicine and the Humanities

Bottoms Up! A Pathologist's Essays on Medicine and the Humanities

Bottoms Up! A Pathologist's Essays on Medicine and the Humanities

Bottoms Up! A Pathologist's Essays on Medicine and the Humanities


"The reader will note," Dr. Ober explains, "that psychopathology occupies a prominent place in these essays- melancholia, masochism, hysteria, autoerotic asphyxia, and other dinner table topics." The book opens with a brisk discussion of flagellation- studded with rare illustrations. Like all of the essays in the book, this is an illuminating chapter, scholarly and good natured at the same time, and one that gives rise to speculation concerning human nature and human history.

Ober provides medical answers to many mysteries. In a discussion of infertility in the Bible, he speculates medically as to why Onan and his older brother Er died during coitus. In the eyes of the doctor, these biblical antiheros may deserve our pity, but not our scorn. He also explains the role of Reuben's man drakes in fertilizing the barren Rachel. Equally fascinating is his discussion of the mandrake, a wondrous weed and sire of legend and superstition.

Ober shows why an unfamiliar composer named František Koczwara got himself hanged in a London whorehouse. He tells of the aborted homosexual sadism in Robert Musil; the murder, madrigals, and masochism in the life of composer Carlo Gesualdo; the iconography of leprosy; the iconography of Fanny Hill (or how to illustrate a dirty book); the melancholia of Johnson and Boswell; the short, miserable life of Rimbaud; and other mysteries to which medicine may hold the key.


The kind reception given to Boswell's Clap and Other Essays has encouraged me to assemble another collection of essays. All but one have appeared in medical journals that do not reach a general readership, but their substance as well as the approach should be of wider interest. the former collection was limited to the medical afflictions of literary men. in the present collection I have broadened the scope to what may loosely be called "Medicine and the Humanities," including not only literary subjects but those taken from music, the fine arts, history, and anthropology, all seen through a medical eye.

The past decade has witnessed increasing awareness by educators that it is not enough to teach doctors the theory and practice of medicine. Medical education involves two major processes, first the transmission of information and skills, second the development of an attitude. the technological explosion after World War ii created a large body of new information and new techniques. Such technological progress is not to be dismissed lightly; it is the lifeblood of advances in medical science and their application to patients' needs. Nor would anyone gainsay the importance of acquiring a fund of medical knowledge. But it has become apparent that medical schools and graduate training programs are turning out physicians who are test oriented and procedure oriented rather than patient oriented; the public perceives these physicians as being less responsive to their patients as human beings. Announcing proposals to reform the medical school curriculum, President Derek Bok of Harvard pointed out that what seems to be essential information that must be transmitted to students today will be outmoded tomorrow, and he quotes Dean Burwell's semifacetious remark to Harvard medical students: "Half of what we have taught you is wrong. Unfortunately, we do not know which half." With respect to inculcating an attitude, both to patients and to the profession, one recalls President James B. Conant's formula in awarding the M.D. degree at Commencement: "I confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Medicine and welcome you to the merciful calling of medicine." If medicine is not a merciful calling, we cannot justify its existence.

Writing on the relationship between medicine and literature, Dr. Ed mund Pellegrino . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.