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Medical humanities, kalology and philokalia
  1. Emmanouil Galanakis
  1. Dept of Paediatrics, University of Crete, POB 1393, 715 00 Heraklion, Greece

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    Professor Leopoldo Acuña in his interesting article on the teaching of medical humanities highlights some difficulties emerging from the use of the term “humanities” and proposes “kalology” as more appropriate to define the relationship between the arts and medicine.1

    The dominant term, “medical humanities”, extended to include history, philosophy, ethics, politics, anthropology, literature and fine arts applied to medicine has become widely understood. However, some difficulties remain. The term suggested by Professor Acuña, “medical kalology”, as-yet-unsanctioned but coined in accordance with the rules of medical terminology, could be an alternative. The term was not in use in classical Greek, but this does not pose a problem in itself since other, perfectly comprehensible, terms such as “thalassaemia” or “euthanasia” were either not found in classical times or had a meaning quite different from their current one.

    An additional alternative term to encompass the topics covered by “medical humanities”, with some emphasis on literature and fine arts, would be “medical philokalia” (or “medical philokaly”). Philokalia literally means the love of, and care for, the beautiful.2 Philo- (which derives from philos, translated as “friend”) has formed long established terms such as philosophy, philology, philanthropy; and –kalia (which derives from kalos, translated as “beautiful”) is already used in the proposed “kalology”. The term philokalia was commonly used by classical Greek authors including Thucydides3 and Galen4 and the opposite form aphilokalia has survived as well.5 The use of philokalia was continued by Byzantine authors, primarily as a title for text anthologies.

    If terms alternative to “medical humanities” or to “humanities applied to medicine” are needed, a potential one could be–alongside “medical kalology”, “kaloiatrics” and “medical aesthetics”–the term “medical philokalia”, especially if emphasis is to be given to literature and fine arts applied to medicine.