Monday, September 26, 2005

Paging Dr. House ...

James Le Fanu at the Telegraph has a column on something called the Ulysses syndrome which might have interest for classicists and which reminded me of a scene from my favorite show, House:

Medicine is full of classical allusions, a faint echo from the days when doctors knew more of the world than just the narrow horizons of science.

So, famously, we have the Achilles tendon, after the young warrior was dipped in the river Styx by his mother to ensure his immortality, while the atlas, the first of the vertebrae at the top of the spine, like its namesake, balances a globe - the skull - on the shoulders. There is the iris, after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and the hymen, in honour of Apollo's son, so beautiful he was thought to be a girl.

More recently, the paediatrician Charles Essex, writing in the British Medical Journal, has drawn attention to the Ulysses syndrome, a reference to the Greek hero's 10-year odyssey following the Trojan war, with its many dangerous and occasionally pleasurable adventures - before he eventually returned to his point of departure. Similarly, those with the Ulysses syndrome, though healthy enough at the start, undertake a long journey with many disagreeable adventures on the way - before ending up where they started.

The conclusion here is a happy one, but the road to it isn't very pretty.

No comments: