French illustrator Gustave Doré (1832–83) depicted Dante, the author of The Divine Comedy being immersed (above) by an acquaintance, Matilda, in the Underworld’s River Lethe, “whose waters bring oblivion of things evil.” Known as the River of Forgetfulness or Oblivion, Lethe was believed by ancient Greeks to erase the memories of previous lives from the souls of the dead. Moreover, Lethe was the plutonic stream after which dentist-anesthetist William Morton branded his ether as “Letheon.” Ironically, Morton’s famous 1846 public demonstration of surgical etherization failed to provide complete amnesia. Afterward, his patient, Gilbert Abbott, remarked that the pain of undergoing surgery, though considerable, had been lessened “as though the skin had been scratched with a hoe.” Modern anesthesiologists usually consider a patient’s amnesia for the duration of surgery as a desirable feature of general anesthesia. (Copyright © the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology.)

French illustrator Gustave Doré (1832–83) depicted Dante, the author of The Divine Comedy being immersed (above) by an acquaintance, Matilda, in the Underworld’s River Lethe, “whose waters bring oblivion of things evil.” Known as the River of Forgetfulness or Oblivion, Lethe was believed by ancient Greeks to erase the memories of previous lives from the souls of the dead. Moreover, Lethe was the plutonic stream after which dentist-anesthetist William Morton branded his ether as “Letheon.” Ironically, Morton’s famous 1846 public demonstration of surgical etherization failed to provide complete amnesia. Afterward, his patient, Gilbert Abbott, remarked that the pain of undergoing surgery, though considerable, had been lessened “as though the skin had been scratched with a hoe.” Modern anesthesiologists usually consider a patient’s amnesia for the duration of surgery as a desirable feature of general anesthesia. (Copyright © the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology.)

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George S. Bause, M.D., M.P.H., Honorary Curator and Laureate of the History of Anesthesia, Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, Schaumburg, Illinois, and Clinical Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. UJYC@aol.com.