Graves Lecture 1978

12/09/1978 in Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, 6, Kildare Street, Dublin 2

Michael James Whelton, Department of Medicine, Regional Hospital, Cork.

Perspectives in Liver Disease – an Irish experience

Prometheus, we are told by the Greek mythologist, suffered at the hands of Zeus for daring to steal fire from the Sun. A contemporary, Robert Graves, tells us “Zeus had Prometheus chained naked to a pillar in the Caucasian mountains, where a greedy vulture tore at his liver all day, year in, year out; and there was no end to the pain because every night (during which Prometheus was exposed to cruel frost and cold) his liver grew whole again” (Graves, 1960). The liver is a remarkable organ and while it is not clear how the mythologist knew of its incredible regenerative powers, its central importance to human life was clearly evident to the Greeks. While liver disease was not the major interest in Robert James Graves’ clinical life, he did make some original observations which remain of interest to this day on extrahepatic aspects of liver disease.

Robert James Graves graduated from Medical School in 1818 and in 1820 had obtained a licence of the College. In 1821, a vacancy having arisen in the Meath Hospital, he was elected consultant physician and in 1823 was unanimously elected a Fellow of the College. In 1827, he took over the King’s Professorship of the Institutes (Physiology, Pathology and Therapeutics). In 1843, he was President of the College for the first of 2 terms. He died in 1853 after a long illness. It is evident from contemporary accounts that he had developed ascites prior to his death and reports of a painful liver condition suggest that he developed a hepatoma in a cirrhotic liver.

Irish J Med Sci December 1979, Volume 148, Issue 1, pp 161–167

This being the eighteenth Graves Lecture since its beginnings in 1961.