Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Crabby Discourse

Despite fifteen years (on and off) with the condition, I never connected cancer the disease, to cancer the zodiac sign. At the garden where I work, I asked my sage friend Susan if she knew the link. Susan, empress of a mountain range of obscure information, came through. She said, "It's something about how doctors thought cancer tumors looked like crabs." This tidbit screamed out to be researched.

It turns out that the physician Hippocrates, so famous for his oath, first named cancer, "karkinos" and "karkinoma," from the Greek words for "crab." He thought tumors he examined looked like the water creatures--with their "hard center, and /their/ spiny projections" sprouting out like legs ( Galen (130-200)a Greek physician in the Roman empire, is credited for naming the disease, "cancer," using the Latin word for "crab." From the same root, we also get the word "canker," as in those embarassing sores.

Galen was considered the leading Western physician for over a thousand years. This is far too long for any doctor to be a leading expert. (I'm only alive due to rapid medical advances.) Galen treated gladiators and emperors and sponged up great philosophies. He dissected dog hearts, documented opium overdoses, linked cancer and epilepsy to depression, and invented cold cream. Yes, like the rose-scented Pond's cream I fondly remember my Grandma Mona wearing. Apparently his best work came out of his years as a gladitorial physician--that ring a birthplace for many wounds. I wouldn't want to be a rat in that laboratory. Long before the Renaissance, Galen was a Renaissance man.

As for the Zodiac's crab, a water sign, it didn't appear in the English language until the Normans introduced it before Chaucer. It is the dimmest and darkest of the constellations. "Chaldeans and Greeks both believed that the Gate of Men, the gate by which souls supposedly descended into human bodies, was located in this constellation"(1). Souls were supposed to reenter heaven after death through Capricorn, on the other side of the sky.

I am a Capricorn, born on the feast day considered most unlucky of the calendar--the Massacre of the Innocents. But I tend to ignore omens not in my favor (such as charts of survival rates.) I only give credence to statistics that are to my advantage. It's the only way to go.

Best, Jumblie Girl

(1) (Jobes, Gertrude and James. "Outer Space." New York: Scarecrow Press, 1961, page 131.)


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