Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Gulliver’s visit to the Academy of Lagado


When Lemuel Gulliver left his beloved wife and children in August 1706 to undertake a sea voyage to the East Indies, his ship was boarded by pirates who set him adrift in a small canoe with only four days’ provisions. By skillful navigation he managed to land in the country of Balnibarbi and was able to visit its capital city of Lagado. There he found its inhabitants laboring under apprehensions not dissimilar to those of our age. There was much interest in becoming energy self-sufficient and much research had already been done by the professors of the Academy of Projectors.

Some 40 years earlier these professors had achieved considerable legislative authority and had imposed new rules for trade, agriculture, building, and manufacture. One of their projects was to improve the way land was cultivated. Accordingly, acre after acre had been planted according to the new method devised by the academics and decreed by the government. So far not a single blade of grass had grown, not a single flower, not even a cabbage. Only in one area were crops still plentiful, growth lush, flowers blooming, but all plantations in that area were soon to be destroyed and all the houses torn down in order to comply with the new mode of building and cultivation.

At the Academy itself many projects were being carried out to produce cheap energy and improve the overall living conditions of the planet. Foremost among these was a project to extract sunbeams out of cucumbers. This had been worked on for eight years by a man “of meager aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places, his clothes, shirt, and skin all of the same color.” The plan was to enclose the sunbeams in hermetically sealed vials and use them to provide heat and light at a reasonable rate.

Another project, less appetizing, was to reduce human excrement to its original food components by separating it into several fractions, removing the bile, the smell, and the saliva. This was the project of the most ancient student at the Academy, a man with face and beard of a pale yellow color, his hands and clothes filthy, and he exuding an unpleasant odor that made close embraces repellent.

One man was working to transform ice into gunpowder; another to construct houses by beginning at the roof and working downwards; another had covered his walls with spiders, hoping to turn them into silkworms; and there was one man, born blind, working to mix colors for painters so they could distinguish them by feeling and smelling.

In another area there was a project to plow fields with hogs, strewing acorns all over the ground and burying them, so that the hogs would then tear up the field to find them and by using their own dung as manure to save charges for plowing, capital, and labor. Then there was a scientist trying to control the winds by installing a huge weathercock; and several working to shorten discourse by converting all words into monosyllables, and then abolishing words altogether in order to develop a universal language.

Of considerable interest was a physician working on curing all disorders of the bowel by inserting a tube eight inches up into the anus, attaching a large pair of bellows to it, and either drawing out air and feces or blowing in air—an experiment demonstrated on the dog, who however became so distended as to burst and died on the spot.

Other doctors, on the basis of similarities between the body politic and the body of an individual person, concluded that all persons could be cured by the same prescription. They proposed that physicians should feel the senators’ pulse after the day’s debate and then have their apothecaries treat everybody with the same lenitives, aperitives, abstersives, corrosives, restringents, palliatives, laxatives, cephalgics, icterics, apophlegmatics, acoustics, or if necessary surgery.

When political parties disagreed violently, they would saw off the occipital lobes of the members of one party and exchange them for equal parts of the brains of the other, producing moderation and agreement and putting an end to acrimony and gridlock. And there was also another professor, able to discover plots and conspiracies against the government by examining the diet of all suspected persons, their times of eating, on which side they lay in bed, and then studying their excrement and form a judgment of their thoughts and designs from its color, odor, taste, and consistency.

They were many other projects, but Gulliver moved on once he was promised he would receive proper credit in the publications emanating from these discoveries. Sometime later he visited the Luggnaggians and was shown the struldbrugs, or immortals, people who could never die but live forever. He was told that these people become depressed at about 30 years, and by 80 would be mean, morose, covetous, vain, incapable of friendships, and envious of the young. Later they would lose their teeth, hair, taste, and memory. By 200 years they looked ghastly and disgusting, like vegetables, disliked by everybody, and quite assuaging all desires of immortality in everybody else. And there is much relevant to our times in this wonderful classic, often mistakenly thought to be a book for children rather than a biting satire of the ridiculous and undesirable in society.

GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief

Highlighted in Frontispiece Summer 2012 – Volume 4, Issue 3

Summer 2012



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