Dr Rudolph Virchow
On the Modern Times and the Living Past
The other friend of Rizal I hardly knew
Jose Sison Luzadas
Delray Beach, FL
Dr. Rudolf Virchow
If there was one man other than Ferdinand Blumentrtitt who by just delivering an obituary boasted so much credibility on who Rizal was, is no one but this famous German pathologist. Besides, he also a world renown anthropologist, public health activist, prehistorian, biologist and politician. He is referred to as the “Father of Pathology,” and founded the field of Social Medicine. More famous too because it was he who put an end to the search in the quest for the “missing link”!
His name is Dr. Rudolf Virchow whom Rizal met when Blumentritt introduced him. Dr. Rudolf Virchow who at that time was a member of the German parliament and president of the Berlin Society delivered his obituary to Dr. Jose Rizal during a meeting of paleontologists, pathologists, archeologists and other members of the Berlin Society to which Rizal was a member. It happened in 1897, one year after Rizal was executed in Bagumbayan on December 30, 1896.
An excerpt from the obituary runs;
“In the penetrating psychological analysis of the man by Mr. Blumentritt there is mention of Rizal’s sensitivity as an artist, Mr. Blumentritt being the possessor of three terracotta statues: 1) Prometheus Bound, 2) “The Victory of Death Over Life” and 3) The Triumph of the Intellect over Death.
We are losing in Rizal not only a faithful friend of Germany and German scholarship but also the only man with sufficient knowledge and resolution to open a way for modern thought into that far-off island world.”
Rizal demonstrated as multi talented man not just in medicine and literature but also what Rudolf Virchow described “sensitivity as an ARTIST”.
The three pieces of artwork mentioned were originally made from terracotta. They are (1) Prometheus Bound, (2) The Triumph of Intellect over Death and (3) Victory of death over Life.
In the first artwork, Rizal showed his interest in Greek mythology by using a mythical hero, Prometheus whose hands were tied to a rock with an eagle as guard, watching at the same time devouring his liver as punishment.
If we go back to Greek mythology, Prometheus was of one the Gods in Mount Olympus with whom the BIG Chief, Zeus ordered him to be shackled in the rock with the eagle guarding to prevent his escape.
Prometheus has nothing but pity and sympathy to man because man was created as slave, born to be stupid, obedient and has no facility to reason out.
One day when Zeus was sleeping Prometheus stole a fire and gave it man. Thus putting an end to man’s stupidity.
By receiving the fire, man is now equipped with “knowledge”, “intelligence” and “independence”. Angry for having been deceived and sold out by a lesser god, Zeus exacted his revenge against Prometheus. Rizal’s sculpture shows Prometheus with both hands tied to big rock, receiving his punishment from an eagle assigned to eat his liver the whole day while guarding until evening comes when it goes home. Overnight the livers grow again and it became a by routine until Prometheus was finally rescued by Herakles or Hercules.
The use of the mythic hero Prometheus has special meaning to explain Rizal’s philosophy. Did he not say in the NOLI that he is going to remove the veil of ignorance to open the minds of his countrymen through education?
Therefore symbols like Light, Torch and Fire could mean Knowledge, Learning, enlightened education, awakening, liberation and emancipation.
Let’s go back to our elementary and high school years when we are required to use a “NOTE BOOK” for writing and homework? In the cover page made from “manila paper” there is a picture of a TORCH and around it is boldly printed “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER” or “ANG KARUNUNGAN AY TANGLAW”.
The second Rizal artwork illustrates “The Triumph of Intellect Over Death”. Rizal used the symbolic TORCH or LIGHT to wipe out ignorance, superstition and darkness.
A close look at the third artwork demonstrates how sensitive Rizal was on the grim reality of death when mortal life is extinguished. “The Victory of Death over Life” as the title he gave reflects the popular theme when the evil forces of darkness gain upper hand from the forces of good and righteousness.
Depicting the interplay of life and death is still popular theme among writers, dramatists, poets, philosophers and composers from the Renaissance to the present.