This book review is reprinted from the British Homoeopathic Journal Volume 82, Number 4, October 1993, with permission from Peter Fisher, Editor.
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Materia Medica Viva. Volume 1.
Mill Valley, California: Health and Habitat.
Price $51. [Editor's note: As of August 1996 Minimum Price Books' price is $69.95]
George Vithoulkas is acknowledged by many throughout the world as one of the foremost homoeopaths of our generation. He has taught extensively, and in the past his teaching on materia medica has been 'leaked' and published as 'The Stolen Essences' without his blessing, because, we are told, he was not at that time satisfied with the material.
This is the first volume of what is intended to be the definitive materia medica for a long time to come. As this 262 page volume covers only the first 26 medicines, from Abelmoschus to Ambrosia artemesia folia, it appears possible that we are to look forward to about 99 more volumes before the work is complete! That is, if it is ever completed, and if the degree of detail presented in the first volume is maintained. The size of the task still awaiting completion is daunting. I understand that 8 more volumes are near to completion, but without curtailing the contents there is still a very long way to go. I hope that case histories, at least of the more important medicines, will be given priority.
The author states his sources in the preface and in a 12-page References section at the end of the book. These include Allen's Encyclopedia, Hering's Guiding Symptoms, Hahnemann's Lectures on Materia Medica, Clarke's A Dictionary of Materia Medica, Cowperthwaite's A Textbook of Materia Medica, Boericke's Pocket Manual of Homoeopathic Materia Medica, the Radar computer repertory and others. Most valuably, he draws on his own experiences at the Centre of Homeopathic Medicine in Athens, Greece, and on its case records. Videotaped interviews are especially mentioned.
Each chapter on a homoeopathic medicine contains subheadings on the pharmacology, toxicology, physiological action, essential features (this is the part most derived from personal experience), general symptoms and keynotes, associated clinical syndromes, causations, relationships, antidotes, dosages used in Athens, examples of cured cases from the literature and the medicine's source name in English, French and German. The generalities and keynotes contain subheadings on each part of the body in the traditional fashion.
The material is exceptionally well laid out, with sensible use of bold type for emphasis, and smaller print for the less important parts. It is generally well written, although to English eyes the language is at times verbose and overpunctuated. There are a number of cross-references to other medicines which share symptoms, which is helpful, although even more would have been welcome.
I have sought to find out what exactly is new in this work, and have chosen Aloe as an example. The chemistry, physiology and toxicology are described more fully than in standard texts, and illustrated with brief postmortem findings from a fatal poisoning. The clinical, causation, antidote and relationships are drawn directly from Clarke. Much local symptomatology is to be found in standard texts, but some entries are from Kent or Synthesis. Where Aloe is the only medicine in a rubric has not been indicated, and, capriciously, some small rubrics are omitted. Aggravation from cloudy weather, mentioned in Clarke, and added to Synthesis by Vithoulkas, is overlooked! Other symptoms, such as desire for apples, have been given more importance than they have in either repertory, having escaped entry in standard texts.
What is most interesting is the association of Aloe with the symptom of preoccupation with bowel habit, so common in the elderly. (No reference is included to it as a medicament for old age, although it is in the repertory). This is such a common symptom that it is surprising to find so little reference to it either in materia medica or repertory. Vithoulkas illustrates this preoccupation with just those quotations with which any experienced physician is so familiar. If Aloe is genuinely well indicated for this symptom it will be a most valuable observation. Since it seems new, the sources and a list of other medicines noted to share it (Nux vomica. perhaps?) would have been welcome.
Altogether, I think the author has succeeded in creating a valuable new materia medica, and I anticipate it will take its place alongside the great works of its kind. I doubt, however, that it, or any other book, will be the last word on the subject, for with the facility for correlating symptoms the computer now gives us, I anticipate a new generation of text material, all accurately annotated. Other homoeopaths will provide new slants and insights, as Sankaran has recently done.
What is missing from this volume, because he plans to publish them separately, are Mr Vithoulkas's own cases. This I found disappointing. I would rather have had these than previously published cases reprinted, although references to the latter would have been valuable. Clearly, the number of options open to the author was great, and I understand that he was given quite conflicting advice about the degree of detail to be included and the order in which it is presented. The layout of the present volume, although admirably clear, does lead to duplication of some of the features of each medicine. Sometimes important points are mentioned several times. Perhaps this could be avoided in later volumes without seriously reducing their quality.
The book is expensively produced, in a hard-backed cover, and only 2,000 copies are to be issued. This is somewhat puzzling, as surely Mr Vithoulkas will surely wish his wisdom to be more generally available. Perhaps a cheaper, larger edition will follow, although I was informed upon enquiry that there are no immediate plans for this. Perhaps the high price will help to recoup the undoubtedly high cost of the team of research workers who have helped the author assemble his material and refine its presentation in English, who are generously acknowledged at the start of the book. The publishers, Health and Habitat, describe themselves as 'a not-for-profit educational corporation.'
Yes, I definitely recommend this volume, and its successors, to serious students of homoeopathy. Despite my minor criticisms I think it is indeed the valuable and important textbook for which we have been waiting, and that it is a success. Look out for, or press for, the cheaper edition which is surely bound to follow the present limited edition.
British Homoeopathic Journal
Volume 82, Number 4, October 1993