Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Henri Parinaud—French physician, composer, and humanitarian

Jason Jo
New York, New York

Henri Parinaud of Parinaud's syndrome, a man with crossed arms looking gruff
Henri Parinaud. Annales d’ oculistique (Paris: Dois, 1905), 320. BIU Santé Médecine, Bibliothèques d’Université Paris Cité. Via Wikimedia. Licence Ouverte / Open Licence.

Henri Parinaud (c. 1844–1905), a pioneer in the fields of neurology and ophthalmology, is best remembered for his two eponymous syndromes: the Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome and Parinaud’s syndrome (dorsal midbrain syndrome).1 However, Parinaud himself, given his humility and unassuming personality, did not hope for such a celebrated legacy. As Robert Ouvrier wrote in his feature of the French physician,2,3 perhaps we might remember him more for the person that he was—a selfless and humanistic educator; a devoted army medical officer; a pianist, organist, and composer; and importantly, a son, brother, husband, and father of three daughters.4

Parinaud was born on May 1, 1844 in Bellac, France to a working-class family. His father, who had provided for the family as a locksmith, died when Parinaud was nineteen. From then on, the young Parinaud became the provider for his mother and three younger brothers, tutoring in between his medical studies. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870, Parinaud, who was studying in Paris at the time, was summoned as a medical officer in the Red Cross field ambulance service where he helped evacuate the wounded. After the war’s conclusion, Parinaud returned to Paris where he eventually became a founding member of the French Ophthalmology Society (La Societé Française d’Ophtalmologie) as well as a council member of the Neurological Society (La Societé de Neurologie).

As one of the earliest leaders in the fields of neurology and ophthalmology, Parinaud’s advancements in both subjects are well-documented—from associating pediatric papilledema with obstructive hydrocephalus to identifying the infectious conjunctivitis and swollen lymph nodes of what would be later recognized as “cat-scratch disease,” a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae.5 To discover the latter, Parinaud observed three patients who presented with symptoms of conjunctivitis and regional lymphadenitis, and associated the similarities in symptoms with the patients’ proximity to Parisian slaughterhouses and animal markets.5,6

What is less well-documented is the person of Parinaud. When he died in 1905, Parinaud was honored with the following description: “a reliable and devoted friend so perfectly sound and professionally correct that one could not find a better example. He was for all his confrères the kindest and most respected adviser.”2 These descriptions were reinforced by his actions. For one, he was the founder of a clinic in Paris, where he and his students, many of whom traveled far to study under Parinaud’s mentorship, cared for their patients free-of-charge.7 As noted before, his practices were located near the slaughterhouses and markets, the lower-class regions of Paris, where other physicians were unlikely to practice.8 Serendipitously, such humility allowed for his discovery of the Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome.

His aforementioned work as an army medical officer also attests to his character. He performed his role in evacuating wounded soldiers from Châteaudun so honorably that he was awarded for his bravery the National Order of the Legion of Honor (Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur) by the Prime Minister of France, Léon Gambetta.4 This was, and still is, one of the highest distinctions a French citizen can receive.9

Parinaud’s music career, under the pseudonym “Pierre Erick,” was also impressive. Parinaud, or rather Erick, was an avid pianist and organist who published a book of compositions with Ricordi in Paris.8 One of his pieces, entitled Légende D’Une Marionnette, is a clever melody that maneuvers between different sentiments and stories with multiple key changes. An excerpt of this piece, as performed by pianist Hea Yoon Jo, can be enjoyed below.10 Just why Parinaud separated his identity from that of Erick is unknown, though some may hypothesize that his desire to remain unrecognized as a physician, as evidenced by his lack of interest in gaining eponyms, may have extended to his music. What is certain, however, is that Parinaud treasured and maintained this aspect of his life, and devoted time to his music as he did for his patients.

In March of 1905, after months of depression following the death of his wife, Parinaud was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia and died. His three daughters survived him, to be tutored by Joseph Babinski, a fellow French physician.11

For medical students and trainees, Parinaud’s approach to medicine and life are admirable. His character—one of innovation, prolificacy, and intelligence together with humility, honest care, and passion—is something to emulate. For his discoveries of the Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome and Parinaud’s syndrome, as well as for his character, may Henri Parinaud long be remembered.

Légende D’Une Marionnette (no. 1 Marche De La Noce). Composed by Pierre Erick (1904), performed by Hea Yoon Jo (2023). Unlisted; acquired with permission to publish from Hea Yoon Jo.


  1. Chang V. “Parinaud Oculoglandular Syndrome.” American Academy of Opthalmology EyeWiki. https://eyewiki.aao.org/Parinaud_Oculoglandular_Syndrome. Accessed February 5, 2023.
  2. Ouvrier R. “Henri Parinaud and his syndrome.” Med J Aust. May 17 1993;158(10):711, 714. doi:10.5694/j.1326-5377.1993.tb121924.x.
  3. Ouvrier R. “Henri Parinaud (1844-1905).” J Neurol. Aug 2011;258(8):1571-2. doi:10.1007/s00415-011-5919-y.
  4. Poirier PJ. “Henri Parinaud (1844-1905): Pionnier de l’ophtalmologie française.” Pratiques en Ophtalmologie. 2011;5(46):2-7.
  5. “Cat Scratch Disease and Parinaud’s Oculoglandular Syndrome.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 1953;152(18):1717-1717. doi:10.1001/jama.1953.03690180039013.
  6. Albert DM, Salman AR, Winthrop KL, Bartley GB. “The Continuing Ophthalmic Challenge of Bartonella henselae.” Ophthalmol Sci. Sep 2021;1(3):100048. doi:10.1016/j.xops.2021.100048.
  7. Pearce JMS. “Parinaud’s syndrome.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 2005;76(1):99-99. doi:10.1136/jnnp.2003.031310.
  8. Koehler PJ, Bruyn GW, Pearce J. Neurological eponyms. Oxford University Press, 2000: xiv, 386.
  9. “The Legion of Honor in 10 questions.” Grande Chancellerie de la Légion d’honneur. 2023. https://legiondhonneur.fr/en/page/legion-honor-10-questions/406.
  10. Erick P. Légende D’Une Marionnette, ed. 1904.
  11. Roper-Hall G. “Historical vignette: Henri Parinaud (1844-1905): French ophthalmologist and pioneer in neuroophthalmology.” Am Orthopt J. 2014;64:126-33. doi:10.3368/aoj.64.1.126.

JASON J. JO is a second-year medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, aspiring to become an ophthalmologist. As a graduate of the Classics department at Princeton University, he hopes to incorporate his love for the humanities throughout his medical career. Jo is also a cellist, guitarist, and singer as well as an avid Los Angeles Lakers and Tottenham Hotspur supporter. 

Submitted for the 2022–23 Medical Student Essay Contest

Winter 2023 |  Sections  |  Physicians of Note

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