|De que mal morira (Of what ill will he die?)
This is engraving number 40 from the Los Caprichos series by Francisco de Goya, published in 1799 and showing a donkey as a doctor attending a dying man in his bed. The doctor wears a watch to count the patient’s pulse but not a stethoscope because this had not yet been invented. It suggests that the doctor is uncaring or ignorant, not trying to help the patient but merely wondering about the nature of the disease. Could it be an interesting case, something worth writing about?
The story and intent of Los Caprichos are confusing, because Goya’s engravings and captions come from different periods of his life, as reflected by the existence of several surviving versions, one in the Prado Museum in Madrid and another in the National Library. Undoubtedly Goya was critical of the Spanish society in which he lived, its superstitions, religious fanaticism, the Inquisition, unjust laws, and faulty education system. But he often lived in fear of falling into the hands of the Inquisition and had to act to protect himself. He had been appointed court painter to King Charles IV in 1788, but witnessed a more repressive atmosphere after the onset of the French Revolution. Then in 1793 he had a severe illness, perhaps a stroke or vestibulitis, that left him incapacitated for a while and also deaf. It appears that because of fear of the Inquisition he later had to mollify his criticism and eventually offer his work to the King. Without a doubt, however, the engraving showing the doctor as a donkey cannot be interpreted in any other way than a criticism of the medical profession, or at least of some of its members, for its pretensions, ignorance, and heartlessness.
GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief