death, diseases, teaching

The Chameleon in the Classroom

This is a story of illness and magic from the fourth century CE. Even though Constantine had converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, paganism didn’t just lie down and die. One of the most famous pagan intellectuals was Libanius, a distinguished orator who taught rhetoric to famous Christian figures such as Basil the Great and… Continue reading The Chameleon in the Classroom

sex, films, novels

The King Must Die?: Favorite Plot-lines

  What’s your favorite plot line? One of my friends is a genius when it comes to recommending science fiction and fantasy books, and not just on the ‘If you loved that, you’ll like this’ principle. I remember once saying to her: ‘Human lost in alien universe, not much happens beyond trying to get used… Continue reading The King Must Die?: Favorite Plot-lines

diseases, doctors, medical instruments, museums and collections

Le bruit de diable: gunpowder, tops and purring cats

No, this isn’t a telescope, it’s a stethoscope. René Laennec (1781-1826) invented this device in 1816, as a way to solve the ethical dilemma of having to put his ear to the chest of a young woman patient. He started with a rolled up piece of paper to help him hear her heart and her breathing, but… Continue reading Le bruit de diable: gunpowder, tops and purring cats

doctors, monuments, Uncategorized

‘A house crammed full of books’ – and children

How are you at combining your work and your family? It’s a question which exercises many of us, and it came to mind again a few months ago. I’ve always liked visiting cathedrals, and I’ve always been interested in funerary monuments. So on a trip to north-east England, when I was briefly in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I… Continue reading ‘A house crammed full of books’ – and children

museums and collections

Automata in history

  Do you ever feel your dining table needs cheering up? When I was working in Vienna, I saw a collection of possibly the last word in ways to impress your dinner guests. I was at the wonderful Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna where the Kunstkammer – a selection from the amazing ‘cabinet of curiosities’ assembled… Continue reading Automata in history