Solomon, the widest of wise men, has said: "There is no new thing under the sun," and so new truths are not here to be presented. Indeed, the subject under consideration precludes the idea of newness, and he who speaks of these strange and closely allied systems speaks of that which antedates the most remote records and bids fair to outlast all time. Strange, entrancing, bewildering and ever becoming more strange, more entrancing, more bewildering, these twin sisters of our perplexity stand daily before us, ever changing places and ever smiling at our vain efforts to know them. That which to-day we call myth was yesterday medicine; that which to-day we call medicine is to-morrow myth. May we not go further and say that which yesterday was myth we to-day call medicine and that which to-day we call myth to-morrow may be medicine? Thus, ever the same, yet ever appearing in new likeness, myths and medicine are to engage our attention. Facts and fancies grown moldy with age are to be reviewed, regrouped and in some instances reconstructed to suit modern ideas, and if at the end some one shall have been interested or some one shall have been stimulated to an investigation which shall enable him to lay his hand on one theory and say this is medicine or this is a myth, without possibility or even probability of being disproven, then will this paper have accomplished its purpose.
From time immemorial have myths and medicine been related. The ancients who knew no religion save that of tradition, who had a separate and distinct god for everything, sought cleansing at the hands of the priests and offered sacrifice in times of epidemics, that the anger of the gods might be appeased. AEsculapius, the Greek god of the healing art, was a son of Apollo and Coronis, and was instructed in the art of healing by his father. An apt scholar, he soon outrivaled his tutor, and, it is said, even recalled the dead to life, for which act he was slain by the god of gods, Jupiter—a warning to all modern physicians who feel themselves competent to conquer the silent messenger. Apollo, the god of the sun—Coronis, the goddess of dawn—what more fitting than that the physician should be associated with the coming of light? But even before the need of a physician, the entrance of evil, cold, hunger, pain and disease into the world is beautifully set forth in myth lore. Prometheus and Epimetheus had been commissioned by the gods to distribute gifts to all creation. This was done with such lavish hand that for man, the creation of Prometheus, nothing was left. Proud of his work, Prometheus determined on a great gift, and stole for man from Mount Olympus a brand of fire, for which act he was subjected to great torture, and punishment was planned for man for having accepted a gift so far above his station. A council of the gods resulted in the creation of woman—to be known as Pandora and to be conveyed to earth as the special gift of the gods. After Pandora had been received and mated, Mercury, the messenger of the gods, was sent to earth with a beautiful box of cunning workmanship and intricate fastening, begging to be allowed to leave it in the care of Pandora for a short time on a plea of fatigue. Pandora, with woman's curiosity, soon began to examine the box and to speculate on its contents. Finding the fastening puzzling, her pride was touched and she at once sought to undo it. Voices called to her from within, pleading for freedom, and at last freedom came. The box opened, myriads of small insects came swarming forth and began at once most cruelly to bite and sting all mankind, whilst from their very midst, promising to heal the wounds of her fellow-visitors, cried for liberty the voice of Hope, who had been more closely imprisoned in a second box within the larger, and to be opened later with great labor. Thus entered evil, cold, hunger, pain and disease into the world. Thus, likewise, was the advent of Hope, and thus have they continued as inseparable companions since that time. Whoever witnessed the ravages of disease that Hope hovered not close at hand? "Whoever bore the sad message, Death must ensue, and witnessed the departure of Hope? Rather did she not draw the nearer and heal broken hearts, whispering of a world where sickness and death come not nigh?
Primitive minds have always associated the doctor with the superhuman. The Indian regards his medicine man as second to none in his tribe, and to him absolutely nothing is impossible, even to the bringing of the dead to life where he so chooses. Not only is he concerned with the cure and alleviation of disease by his charms, his dances, his incantations and his exactions, but likewise is he credited with holding in his hand the issue of the hunt and the scourging of his people with plagues. To the Indian, medicine means the power possessed by a man's fetish or charmed object, which may be a bear's claw, a stuffed snake, a drum or what not. The Indian, too, has met, in a way, without sacrificing his fanciful notions, the modern idea of special departments in medicine, for among the Ojibwa Indians of Minnesota are found four classes of medicine or mystery men: First, medicine men whose profession is incantation, exorcism of demons and the administration of magic remedies; second the juggler, who professes prophecy and antagonizes the evil charms of rivals; third, the easterner or daylight man, whose orgies are continued throughout the night and cease at daylight, who professes ability to prepare lucky charms for the hunter and potent love powders for the disappointed lover; fourth, the herbalist, who professes knowledge of the properties of plants and administers, as the name implies, "medicine broths" or decoctions and infusions. All these, save the first, practice their professions singly and alone, having no regularly organized societies. The first class, however, has a regularly organized society, which is graduated into four degrees, admission into which is a matter of considerable importance and attended with no little difficulty. But not all superstition lies in the mind of the savage. Who cannot recall some good, kind, but ignorant friend, who believes he can do everything, even almost to the raising of the dead? What physician but is consulted about matters entirely foreign to medicine? Who has not been cautioned of the greater danger of wounds during the period at which the dog star rages? Who cannot recall a score of signs learned of the old ladies in the parturient chamber? What child but does not or has not at some time believed that the doctor has an unlimited supply of babies on hands and scatters them out from his satchel here and there and everywhere, or wherever little boys and little girls are most deserving?
Not a few of these old-time legends are a source of pleasing interest, since they help to round off the rough corners of mere memory work and make brighter what would otherwise be plain, unvarnished facts. Venereal diseases have not that same repugnance when we consider the character from which the word venereal is derived. Venus and her love for Adonis help to relieve this class of disease of much of its odium, and how beautifully is the association of myth and medicine still further demonstrated in this same story when we follow Adonis to the hunt and see Venus weeping over his life-blood as drop by drop it is changed to the beautiful anemone, and then recall that this same anemone is the remedy par excellence in cases of extreme nervous affections characterized by melancholia and passionate despair. Morphia assumes the character of a personal friend when we recall Morpheus, the god from whom it took its name, and see him in peaceful drowsiness clinging to his bunch of poppies—to him the source of complete happiness. Death loses half its terror when we reflect that in ancient myths the god of death is the twin brother of the god of sleep and shares with him the same cave. The arachnoid becomes more to us than a mere spider-web-like membrane with its fibers, its interstices, its vessels, its nerve filaments and its processes, when we consider that the spider from whose web the membrane took its name was once a beautiful maiden named Arachne, who dared to challenge Minerva to contest in needlework, and when after the weaving was completed, saw her failure, hanged herself, and was at once transformed into a spider, condemned to weave and to spin unceasingly. Hygiene and medicine appear in their true relation when we read that Hygia, the goddess of health preserving, and AEsculapius were full brother and sister.
True, man has an investigative turn of mind, and has spoiled many of these choice theories, but modern medicine is far from being free from the influence of ancient and modern mythology, as is witnessed by the above instances in nomenclature and the scores of signs presumed, not only by laity, but by members of the profession, also to influence pathological conditions. The charmer, the voodoo, the seventh son of a seventh son, have their clientage to-day, just as they ever have had and ever will have. The little one must be measured for the undergrowth, the clock must be stopped when the spirit takes its flight, and the boy who handles toads must expect to wear warts on his hands, to say nothing of the conversion of the stomach into an aquarium for the rearing of lizards and toads and the popular idea as to the causation of a sty. How many of us stop to consider we are paying tribute to an ancient god of the Greeks every time we head our prescription with the usual sign, which character is but an abbreviated prayer to this god that the remedies thereinafter named may be effectual in the prevention, alleviation or cure of the disease for which it is written? Of course, there are other theories as to the origin and significance of this sign, but this view, in the matter of authenticity, is on a par with the others and is very generally accepted.
It is equally true that we are inclined to scoff and place in ridicule these old ideas that are really not entirely foreign to truth, as we now see it. It does not require a philosopher to see in the Pandora with a box of insects a Pandora with a culture tube filled to running over with pathogenic microbes. Neither does it require a close reasoner to see that as from the midst of insects came forth Hope to heal and sooth, so from microbes come forth antitoxins, serums, modifying, soothing and healing the diseases causes by these same microbes. The medical world to-day has hardly ceased to be agitated over the recent discovery, if such we may term it, of the Plasmodium of malaria, its haunts and its habits; and yet in ancient mythology we have much the same theories, given as follows, in the story of Apollo and Python: Python, a monster serpent, was born of the slime and stagnant waters from the deluge, and had long terrorized the inhabitants, making great inroads on their number. None had dared to approach the monster, but at last Apollo went boldly forth, met and slew this demon with his golden shafts. Note the similarity. Python, born of stagnant water—malaria, the inevitable result of stagnant water. Python, defeated by none so long as his favorite haunts were undisturbed—malaria a constant companion until drainage gave Apollo, the sun, a chance to dry up the slime of these stagnant pools, and by his golden shafts (rays of light and heat) slay Python, the germ of malaria. Who shall say that these ancients were not nearer the truth than we have supposed? Who shall say they were not in possession of the whole and the exact truth, just as they were in possession of many other truths which are to-day to us a lost art? And who shall say that these simple stories were not a series of allegories only, intended to simplify these complex theories until the minds of the masses could grasp them? It may be ours to dwell on what we choose to term an enlarged and more exact science. It may be ours to discredit, but it is not ours to scoff so long as we have hosts who will consult a faith cure and Christian scientist, and it is not ours to ridicule so long as we have enlightened men and women who will suffer themselves to be physically injured and operated upon or who will perform an act tomorrow or next week simply because some one has made a few meaningless passes before them and pronounced them hypnotized. I would not be understood as questioning the verity of a hypnotic state, but I do claim it appeals not more strongly to reason than do many of these old theories.
Scores of remedies once sheet-anchors of practice are now passing out of use. The excessive doses of calomel and antimony are no longer heard of. Venesection, the one time cure-all, is now far from being regarded as a panacea as to be scarcely ever mentioned, many of the younger members of the profession never having witnessed the operation. Likewise, many remedies once laughed at or regarded as especially dangerous are now in general use. Water is no longer withheld from the parched lips of a feverish patient. Instead of reducing, we endeavor to conserve strength. Vaccine virus is no longer a remedy of questionable utility. In short, as stated above, myth has come to be regarded as medicine and medicine as myth.
Great waves of reformation have swept over the globe, marking epochs in the history of medicine, and in many instances, in a few months or years much of the work of these so-called reformations has had to be undone. Alas! the many lives sacrificed yearly on this altar of experimentation can never be recalled. Within the memory of all is the discovery of the coal-tar products and the great epidemic of la grippe of about the same date. Likewise, within the memory of all is the great mortality of those first few years wherein so much of these coal-tar antis were used till this same great mortality sounded the alarm, and it was found the heart failure so often met was largely due to these depressants, then thought to be sovereign remedies. A few years ago water was carefully kept from our typhoids, whilst to-day water is indispensable in its treatment. Water to drink, water to cleanse, water to reduce temperature, water for almost everything. The realm of surgery, also, has been almost entirely revolutionized by the advent of asepsis and antisepsis, and yet much that was early advocated is now discarded. Thus, pendulum-like, remedial measures and medicinal theories sway to and fro from the side of myth to medicine, from medicine to myth, never remaining long on either side, never still and yet hovering near the truth. To-day the microbic origin and the serum treatment of disease swings far toward the side of medicine. Who can say where it will be to-morrow, next week or in centuries to come? Is it not possible—aye, probable—that in future years we, too, will be laughed at and ridiculed and that our pet theories shall have faded into nothingness?
Finally, brethren, as the minister would say, a few words by way of practical admonition, and we have done. Either in fact or in fancy our societies are bound in professional brotherhood by ties of duty, respect, honor and love. If in fact, the harsh and wrangling words that sometimes creep into business sessions have no place and should not be repeated. If alone in fancy, then have we been worshiping a myth—a mere tradition of the fathers in medicine, and it is high time the pendulum be allowed to settle till our true position be ascertained; till all difference may be equitably adjusted; till brother shall be as brother; till when, as one by one we shall seek other fields or shall be called to join the silent majority, we shall say, in the language of the poet:
"Farewell; but whenever you welcome the hour
That awakens the night song of mirth in your bower,
Then think of the friend who once welcomed it, too,
And forgot his own griefs to be happy with you.
His griefs may return—not a hope may remain
Of the few that have brightened his pathway of pain;
But he ne'er will forget the short vision that threw
Its enchantment around him while lingering with you.
"And still on each evening when pleasure tills up
To the highest top sparkle each heart and each cup,
Where'er my path lies, lie it gloomy or bright,
My soul, happy friends, shall be with you that night;
Shall join in your revels, your sports and your wiles,
And return to me, beaming all o'er with your smiles.
Too blest if it tells me that, 'mid the gay cheer.
Some kind voices murmured: 'I wish he were here.'
"Let Kate do her worst, there are relics of joy,
Bright dreams of the past, which she cannot destroy,
Which come in the night-time of sorrow and care.
And bring back the features that joy used to wear.
Long, long be my heart with such memories tilled.
Like the vase in which roses have once been distilled!
You may break, you may shatter the vase, if you will,
But the scent of the roses will hang round it still."