Literature Annotations


Abse, Dannie
Pythagoras (Smith)


Genre Play (49 pp.)
KeywordsArt of Medicine, Hospitalization, Human Worth, Institutionalization, Mental Illness, Prayer as Medicine, Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Religion, Science, Society
Summary

The action takes place in a mental hospital where Pythagoras is a patient. According to the medical authorities, Pythagoras is a small-time show-biz magician. The patient, however, believes that he is the REAL Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, and mystic. It certainly SEEMS that Pythagoras may have magical powers: when he points to the telephone, it rings; when he raises his hand to the sky, thunder claps.

Dr. Aquillus, the superintendent, has no sympathy with these pranks. The patients believe in his power, but even they sometimes question Pythagoras. For example, in response to the Greek's boast that "I was philosopher, mathematician and magician," one patient says, "You shoulda specialized, buster. You won't get anywhere unless you specialize." At this point Pythagoras responds that it is "difficult to wear both the white coat of science and the magician's purple one. You have to be--very great!" In the end Pythagoras is reduced to Tony Smith and the truth is revealed. Or is it?

Commentary

In the introduction to "The View from Row G," James A. Davies writes, "'Pythagoras (Smith) celebrates the magical, the irrational, the imaginative." At one level the play contrasts the world of science and the world of magic or imagination. At a deeper level, however, it shows the dynamic relationship (and perhaps sometimes melding?) between those two worlds in medicine.

Pythagoras's song in Act 2 begins, "White coat and purple coat / a sleeve from both he sews. / That white is always stained with blood / that purple by the rose." These two coats, both of which Dannie Abse has worn, also make up the title of his collected poems, "White Coat, Purple Coat: Collected Poems, 1948-1988 (New York: Persea, 1991).

SourceThe View from Row G: Three Plays
PublisherSeren Books
Edition1990
EditorsJames A. Davies
Place PublishedCardiff, Wales
Annotated by Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 05/11/99
Last Revised 05/31/99