Funtabulously Frivolous Friday Five 070

What could be more funtabulous than a Friday Five on the Art of Emergency Medicine?

That’s right… nothing!

Start growing your goatees people, we’re about to go to art school….

LITFL Editor’s note:
Today we welcome brilliant Perth-based emergency physician, and creator of the whimsical #Path140 project, Michelle Johnston to the LITFL team — prepare yourself for all things quirky, weird and wonderful! This is her first post — revel in the funtabulosity!

Question 1

What is the poison that Socrates is about to voluntarily consume?

From Heilbrun Timeline of Art History (click image for source)

  • Crushed Hemlock
  • The poison that Socrates was purported to having drunk likely contained Conium maculatim, which contains alkaloids that act as progressive neuromuscular toxin, in a curare like fashion. This is consistent with Plato’s description (he’s the chap seated at the foot of the bed, parchment in hand, in Jacques Louis David’s famous painting of 1786). According to Plato, Socrates’ legs “began to feel heavy, whereby he lay down on his back and the sensation left his feet and his legs: as the poison moved upwards and reached his chest, he lost consciousness and his breathing slowed until he was dead”. ‘Twas a common executioner’s tool of the day.
  • It is interesting the discrepancy between Plato’s description of a calm & peaceful death from rapidly progressive neuromuscular paralysis and that, somewhat later, of sufferers of hemlock poisoning  described by Nicander of Colophon, who paints a picture of a ‘terrible choking that blocks the windpipe, where the victim draws breath like one swooning, & his spirits behold Hades’. It is speculated that Socrates had opioids/alcohol added to his cup (via bribes from friends), or that Plato gave a sanitised version.
  • Reference: Plato, Phaedo 57a.

Question 2

Whilst we’re onto the paintings of Jacques Louis David, what was the mode of death of Marat (a sympathiser with Robespierre of post French revolution fame, killed in 1793)?

The Death of Marat (click image for source)

  • A single long knife plunged into his chest, which pierced his aorta.
  • His murderess was Charlotte Corday, a minor aristocrat, who blamed Marat for the uprisings after the French Revolution. She famously claimed “I killed one man to save 100 000″ (indeed, to me, reminiscent of the justifications for Hiroshima,and perhaps even the teachings of Machiavelli). In 1847, writer Alphonse de Lamartine gave Corday the posthumous nickname l’ange de l’assassinat (the Angel of Assassination).
  •  Jean-Paul Marat was part the radical Jacobin faction which had a leading role during the Reign of Terror, which saw the mass execution by guillotine of the ‘enemies of the revolution’. As a journalist, he exerted power and influence through his newspaper, L’Ami du peuple (“The Friend of the People”). Oh yeah, he was also a physician.

Question 3

What do the following images have in common?

  • They are from the OutPost Exhibition, on Cockatoo Island, just outside of Sydney. 
  • This was the only thing magnificent enough to justify missing a morning of the utterly stellar #acem2011 conference.

Question 4

Who was the most divine baroque artist, capturing the intricacies of traumatic decapitations?

  • Caravaggio
  • OK, can we just admit it? Caravaggio is my all time favourite artist.  Up there with Banksy.

Question 5

What was the cause of the slow transformation seen from Renoir’s early paintings to his later works?

Renoir 1883 (click image for source)

Renoir 1908-1914 (click image for source)

  • Likely rheumatoid arthritis
  • By the latter part of his extraordinary career, Renoir had become so crippled by his rheumatoid arthritis, that he had his wife, or model, strap his brush between his fingers.  This explains the complex evolution in his painting and the broader, shorter brushstrokes, and in no way undermines his genius.

Boonen A, van de Rest J, Dequeker J, van der Linden S. How Renoir coped with rheumatoid arthritis. BMJ. 1997 Dec 20-27; 315(7123): 1704-8. PMID: 9448547; PMCID: PMC2128020.

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…and remember that special Christmas gift for the ER physician who has everything!

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  1. says

    What a creative entry! I love how you’ve drawn parallels between art and the medical subject matter portrayed within the paintings and/or influencing the artist. I especially appreciated the integration of Caravaggio’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” Personally I find his use of chiaroscuro to be an incredibly effective technique, particularly when depicting a gory decapitation!

  2. says

    Fascinating! Was Socrates the first RSI?

    Another art-med link: Monet developed terrible cataracts, and (allegedly) after getting them fixed he remarked that he didn’t intend is water lilies to be quite so blue…