As above, so below

The Journal of Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery has an intriguing article on head injuries from Ancient Greece which has a section on ‘Unusual cranial injuries in prominent men’.

There is something cosmically poetic in the fact that the ‘father of tragedy’ Aeschylos died from being hit on the head by a turtle.

The death of the father of tragedy, Aeschylos (524–455 B.C.) is a very unusual case of accidental head trauma. At the age of seventy Aeschylos was mortally injured by a turtle thrown by an eagle on his head (Aelian, 1971). “Aeschylos was seated upon a rock, meditating, … He had no hair on his head and was bald. Now an Eagle supposing his head to be a rock, let the Tortoise which it was holding fall upon it. And the missile struck the aforesaid poet and killed him”. This fulfilled a prophecy, the oracle predicting that Aeschylos would die by an arrow dropped from high in the sky.

An interesting case of concussion that caused a change of personality is described by Plutarch. Aridaios, an unscrupulous and hard man, fell from a height, struck his head and neck and became comatose without any obvious wounds. On the third day he regained consciousness, recovered his strength and senses and he instituted a change in his way of life that could hardly be believed (Plutarch, 1959). According to Plato “the neck is the “isthmus and boundary” between the head, the abode of the divine part of the soul, and the body, the abode of its mortal part” (Plato, 1925). This statement illustrates the belief that traumatic injuries above the neck can be associated with a change of personality.

Xenocrates (400–314 B.C.) a philosopher, mathematician and scholar of the Platonic Academy, is most likely to have died from a head injury “in consequence of stumbling by night against a dish, being more than 82 years of age” (Diogenes Laertius, 1972).

Link to PubMed entry for article.

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