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Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Bust of Hippocrates

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Over the central bookcase was a bronze bust of Hippocrates, with which, according to some authorities, Dr. Heidegger was accustomed to hold consultation in all difficult cases of practice. (3)

For a prop that gets passing mention in a dense and cluttered paragraph, this little item sure packs a punch.

Hippocrates was an Ancient Greek who was alive around 400 BC. He's famous as the so-called "Father of Western Medicine," which is why we're not surprised to find his bust in the office of Doctor Heidegger. The first interesting thing you'll want to know about Hippocrates is that he's credited with being the first physician to separate medicine from the realm of superstition and religion. Where other men would credit the gods with afflicting illness, Hippocrates rejected this notion – he kept the supernatural out of medicine.

This is interesting in the context of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." As you know by now, one of the big questions for the reader is whether or not the water in the vase is really magical stuff from the Fountain of Youth, or whether Dr. Heidegger is simply deceiving his guests. Hippocrates would reject the idea that the water has supernatural powers – does Dr. Heidegger follow in the footsteps of his guide? This question gets more complicated when you realize that Dr. Heidegger consults with a bronze statue in times of difficulty. It's a bit of a contradiction to communicate in a mystical way with a doctor who rejected the supernatural.

The second thing you should know about Hippocrates is that he's supposedly one of the first men to unite the two disciplines of medicine and philosophy. In Dr. Heidegger's "Character Analysis," we ask the question: what kind of doctor is Dr. Heidegger? Is he a scientist? A medical doctor? A philosopher? Possibly he's a little bit of each, we conclude, which makes it all the more fitting that he keeps a bust of Hippocrates on his bookshelf.

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