cover image Catharsis: On the Art of Medicine

Catharsis: On the Art of Medicine

Andrzej Szczeklik. University of Chicago Press, $20 (172pp) ISBN 978-0-226-78869-2

Szczeklik, a professor at the School of Medicine at Jagiellonian University, Poland, applies an art critic's sensibilities to the practice of medicine in this thin but intellectually dense volume. In his philosophical consideration of medicine and humanity, Szczeklik draws on Greek myth, history and the arts to explore the nature of medicine, describing the startling archetypes that appear across different cultures, times and circumstances: dreams, the search for immortality, or the symbolism of entwined serpents, from the caduceus to DNA's serpentine spiral. He also draws on personal experiences to illustrate the challenges and surprises doctors encounter. These anecdotes help describe the toll of suffering and the specter of death, both of which lie at the heart of medicine. He notes that it is only very recently that people have been sedated when they die and no longer ""experience"" death as, for example, Chopin did at a time when death was experienced in the ""sufferer's consciousness."" Something of a poet himself, Szczeklik says, ""Scientists have a soft spot for metaphors and are often as sensitive to them as poets."" Apt metaphors, he continues, have ""contributed to the development of science just as much as rigorous conclusions based on objective data.""