Category Archives: The Writer

The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

On Maculloch’s “Christianity…”

Monday Musings for Monday April 6, 2020
Volume X. No. 13/477


The Bible

A Special Book for Palm Sunday and Easter

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Christianity, The First 3000 Years
By Diarmaid MacCulloch
1184 pages

Happy Easter and joyous reading!


Faithful readers recall the review of Paul Johnson’s Book History of Christianity, 600 pages long, which we presented previously. In that book, the author has favored Reformation, Martin Luther, and Protestantism. We now have another colossal work, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 1184 pages, Christianity, The First 3,000 Years, in which one detects strong anti-Catholic bias. However, undeniably, the book is a landmark in its field, astonishing in its range, compulsively readable, full of insight and points of interest for the general reader. It is not the over-illustrated coffee-table type book you might expect. The book is scholarly, dense, yet written in a readable and engaging style, but not as well written as Plato’s Republic or Edward Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. The impressive volume provides an excellent overview of Christianity. It is most appropriate reading for Easter.

The book begins with Judaism and Greek philosophy, giving the background to the remarkable historical phenomenology of Christendom. It is prodigious, thrilling, and gives the reader a master class of a history without leaving one’s chair. MacCulloch is to be congratulated for his accessible handling of so much complex and difficult material. This is a book generous in detail and sound in judgment. It fills the gaps that heretofore existed in history of religion.

The Content

The book consists of seven parts. The first part is about “A Millennium of Beginnings” (1000 BCE-100CE). In this part the history of the Greek beginnings, Rome and the coming of the Roman Empire are discussed.

In the second part Israel (100-1000 CE) is examined. The second part, “One Church, One Faith, One Lord?”, examines the lives of Jesus, Paul, Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, and the Jewish Revolt and the End of Jerusalem, and finally the Imperial Church, Constantine and Papacy.

In part three, “Vanishing Futures: East and South (451-1500)”, a close examination of Asia and Africa, church fathers such as Saint Augustine of Hippo, emergence of Islam in 620 CE, the Church of China, Mongols and Islam in Africa are scrutinized.

Part four, “The Unpredictable Rise of Rome” (300-1300), the making of Latin Christianity, Latin Christendom and “The church of All People” are painstakingly dissected.

Part five, “The Imperial Faith” (451-1800), the emergence of the new Rome, Orthodoxy and the Russian Church are examined.

Part six “Western Christianity Dismembered” (1300-1800), Martin Luther, Reformation, Papal monarchy, Wittenberg and Luther’s 95 questions/theses, and other reformers are discussed.

Part seven, “God in the Dock”, (1492-present), the author examines the Age of Enlightenment, Judaism, Skepticism, and Deism, crowning the section with a more precise dissection and deeper understanding of the roots of religion in America’s deep south. It also gives the reader an understanding of evangelical fervor and culture wars. The book has 67 illustrations, maps and paintings. The text is 1014 pages, the alphabetically arranged notes are 89 pages, and 49 pages of index, plus introduction, totaling 1185 pages.

The title of the book, Christianity, the First Three Thousand Years, is fascinating if not intellectually challenging. We know that Christianity is only 2000 years old. Where does the author get 3000 years of Christianity? At first glance, the reader knows not whether the author is going to address 1000 BC to today or from the beginning of Christianity until one thousand years from now. Well, in this review I will attempt to answer that very question. The title refers to the former, one thousand years before Christ until today. The author skillfully documents that there was Christianity before Christ. There was a Socrates whom many historians and theologians including Soren Kierkegaard call Saint Socrates. As a matter of fact, Soren wrote his PhD thesis “On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates”. Soren was a Socrates “groupie”! We know that Socrates is exalted because of his reverential devotion to teaching enlightenment to his young students for which he was accused, tried and executed. MacCulloch’s “alternative” religious history, favoring the Catholic Church, holds that Christianity really began 3000 years ago. He asserts that before Christ there was a Jewish God, Yahweh, and a Greek God. There were prophets such as the Persian prophet Zarathustra and there were other prophets of the Old Testament Bible such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, etc., all of whom he calls precursors to Christianity which came on the scene 2000 years ago.

MacCulloch devotes considerable space to examine how Christianity has spread throughout the globe. He follows this spread, starting with the origins of the Hebrew Bible, tracing the three main religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, filling in often neglected accounts, including conversions and confrontations in Africa and Asia. He also explains the Crusades. Further, Mr. MacCulloch looks at the roots of the faith that galvanized America, charting the rise of the evangelical movement from its origins in Germany and England to the southern plains of America. In his book, MacCulloch explains that Christianity, one of the world’s great religions, has had an incalculable impact on human history. In a systematic manner, the author devotes several chapters to the main ideas and personalities of Christian history. As cited above, other chapters are given to the organization and spirituality of the church, and how Christianity has changed politics, sex, and human society. The author’s range of discussion spans from Palestine in the first century to India in the third; from Damascus to China in the seventh century; and from San Francisco to Korea in the twentieth.

Global History of Christianity

In my view this huge volume is the first truly global history of Christianity. This formidable compendium is the most comprehensive and up to date single volume work in English that presents the development of Christian history differently from any of its predecessors. The author shows how, after a semblance of unity in its earliest centuries, the Christian Church divided during the next 1400 years into three increasingly distanced parts, of which the western Church was by no means always the most important. He observes that at the end of the first eight centuries of Christian history, Baghdad might have seemed a more likely capital for worldwide Christianity than Rome. He concludes that all in all, Christianity is a landmark in the history of the faith that continues to shape the world.

It is comforting to have MacCulloch’s complementary history of the Christian Church. MacDiarmid MacCulloch is a better writer than Paul Johnson, and his book is a lively and entertaining effort. On the downside, unfortunately, there is a strong anti-Catholic bias throughout his work which is even more disturbing than Johnson’s pro-Catholic stance. In fact, there are several passages in the book that almost give you the impression that MacCulloch must have been writing them with a permanent sneer on his face. In summary, if you are English and Protestant and believe that the best thing that happened to England was the Reformation, then you will probably love this book. If not, the author’s multiple biases and prejudices will probably grate on you. I consider the book a triumphantly executed achievement.

Strengths and weaknesses of this very impressive and comprehensive text are many. I have read Edward Gibbon’s “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” starting in my native tongue of Farsi then in French and finally in English, many times. Gibbon’s English syntax is delicious reminding the reader of lyrical poetic writings of Plato in Republic. Well, I found the use of language in this book to be dry and matter of fact. The syntactic enjoyment is lacking! On the other hand I learned more about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire by reading this book, than reading Gibbon’s work. Another weak or prejudicial point is that I found references are lacking or outright non-existent. The scholarly world knows that the father of Skepticism is Al-Ghazali, (1058-1111), the Persian poet, theologian and philosopher. Yet in Part seven of the book, discussion of Skepticism, there is no mention of either Al-Ghazali or Al-Farabi (870-950).

Finally, to the members of my family and close friends who received this review in advance, I wrote “If you want a delicious book, a feast of a book, a sumptuous and exciting intellectual and spiritual banquet for you and for your family, this book is it!—especially if you read it along with Paul Johnson’s book either back to back or simultaneously—“ Another attraction the book has for me is that it is about the Bible, a book which I truly enjoy and admire. In a recent interview for a national magazine, the interviewer’s last question was,

“If you were forced to live on a deserted island and were allowed to bring one book, one selection of music, and one piece of artwork, what would they be?


That book has not been written. It would be a book containing the genomic display of all the biblical (Old and New Testaments) characters including Christ. If it is not written by the time I am assigned to a deserted island, I will take pen and paper to write it myself. Nobel Laureate, Craig Venter, whose book I have reviewed in this space, has given us a taste of that venture. Since I have not written that book and it is not yet available, I guess I will settle for the Bible, an amazingly comprehensive and complex book. For example, there are 114 references to King Cyrus of Persia alone in the Bible (see Isaiah 45 where Cyrus the Great is called Messiah).


Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a piece of transcendent theology, musical genius, bringing the message of hope, promise, possibility and redemption to all humans. I have already devoted space to dissecting this truly miraculous opus magnum.

 Art: Pietà, by Michelangelo.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine(1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Thinking Things Through…

Monday Musings for Monday March 30, 2020
Volume X. No. 13/476


Anonymous, from the Staats Museum, Vienna



Happy Birthday, Papa Joseph!

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon.), DLFAPA*

We are on time celebrating Maestro Franz Joseph Hayden’s birthday. Joseph Haydn was born on March 31, 1732. 288 year ago. Before we continue with Haydn’s life and music permit me to say a few words about The Seven Last Words of Our Savior On the Cross (German: Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze). What is not very well known is that Haydn was a great writer and story teller. I am going to let the maestro himself tell the story of how the piece was created:

“Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on The Seven Last Words of Our Savior On the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners; indeed, I found it quite impossible to confine myself to the appointed limits.’” We know that the seven main meditative sections—labelled “sonatas” and all slow—are framed by an Introduction and a speedy “Earthquake” conclusion, for a total of nine movements.”

The priest who commissioned the work, Don José Sáenz de Santa María, had reconditioned the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, and paid Haydn in a most unusual way – sending the composer a cake which Haydn discovered was filled with gold coins. “The Seven Last Words” was written in 1786 when Haydn was 54 years old. It debuted in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and of course Spain, a year later in 1787, when he was 55 years old,. Haydn specialists believe that composing The Seven Last Words had a penetrating and lasting effect on Haydn. From his symphony number 88 composed in 1787 onto his last symphony number 104, musicologists such as Joseph Kerman, suspect that he used phrases from The Seven Last Words of Christ. It had a lasting and tendentious effect on him and the architectonics of his subsequent compositions. Such was the power of Easter as an epoch making phenomenon deeply effecting Papa Joseph, a deeply religious man and composer. Besides being an unappalled symphonist (composed 104 symphonies), and prose writer Haydn was a prodigious opera composer. His 14 operas are a part of the repertoire of many opera houses including La Scala and the Met. Our own Raleigh WCPE, Classical Music station played his opera number six, L’infedeltà delusa (Deceit Outwitted) debuted in 1773, on Thursday March 31, Haydn’s birthday.

Haydn was one of three boys born to Mathias Haydn and Anna Maria Koller. His father was a master wheelwright who loved music. He played the harp, while Haydn’s mother sang the melodies. Anna Maria was a cook for Count Karl Anton Harrach before she married Mathias. Haydn’s brother, Michael, also composed music and became relatively famous. His youngest brother, Johann Evangelist, sang tenor in the church choir of the Esterhazy Court. The entire family was musical. Apple falls not far from the tree…

Joseph was according to most psychobiographers and musicologist, such as respected Maynard Solomon and Joseph T. Kerman, was a ”good” and least neurotic person. He had an ordinary childhood. At age 8, he was recruited to sing in the choir at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna where he went on to learn to play violin and keyboard. With the onset of adolescence and change of voice he had to leave the choir. He supported himself by teaching and playing the violin, while studying counterpoint and harmony. Haydn soon became an assistant to composer Nicola Porpora in exchange for lessons, and in 1761 he was named Kapellmeister, or “court musician,” at the palace of the influential Esterházy family, a position that would financially support him for nearly 30 years. Isolated at the palace from other composers and musical trends, he was, as he put it, “forced to become original.” This is a good example of Haydn’s humility and self-effacing mannerism.

Maestro Haydn was open, generous, welcoming, encouraging, enhancing, and growth promoting to his students, friends and even strangers. He and Mozart, 24 years his junior, were good friends. Haydn often bragged on Mozart and encouraged Mozart’s creativity and genius. Haydn, often astonished by Mozart exclaimed to Leopold Mozart, “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.” Haydn also was a teacher to Beethoven, a sordid story which will be told later. Beethoven was a habitual liar and cheated Haydn out of tuition fees and sums of monies that Haydn had loaned him when he was in financial despair. In spite of all Beethoven’s psychopathic behavior, Haydn would write letters of recommendation and welcomed his incorrigible student to his home giving him dinners and clothing. This was an example of Haydn’s generosity. Haydn’s mortal anniversary is May 31, 1809. He was 77 years old.

As an aside in more contemporary times, a good parallel to Haydn’s largess and generosity is Alexander Borodin, the Russian composer (November 12, 1833 to February 27, 1887) and Professor of Biochemistry and Medicine, who often ended up at night sleeping on the floor or on the couch because his friends, colleagues and students would be occupying his house and spending the night after dinner while the professor was making teaching rounds at the hospital and working in his biochemistry laboratory.

As a psychiatrist, I discourage excesses and addictive behavior. But it is quite alright to develop a reckless passion for the arts, opera, and classical music. Get addicted to Papa Haydn’s 14 operas and 104 symphonies. Happy birthday to Maestro Franz Joseph Haydn! We love you.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.


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On Rumi…

Monday Musings for Monday March 23, 2020
Volume X. No. 12/475

Rumi Image

The Life and Poetry of

Mowlana Jalal-Al-Din Mohammad Balkhi Rumi

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

A few words of introduction of  Mowlana Jalal-Al-Din Mohammad Balkhi Rumi, the illustrious Persian poet and saint, author of Divan Masnavi, a colossal book of poetry imparting wisdom with its every word. Rumi’s years were September 30, 1207 to December 17, 1273. Divan Masnavi consists of six books and well over 25,000 lines. Faithful readers of this space recall the essay on power of words suggesting to pay special attention to the first word of books you read. Rumi’s imposing Divan’s first word is “Listen”, connoting that listening is an act of love…Other sages including a contemporary of Rumi, Persian poet Sheikh Mosleh-Al-Din Saadi (1210-1290) illustrated the importance of listening “one is given two ears to listen and one tongue to speak. So, one must listen twice as much as one speaks..”

Back to Rumi.

Mowlana’s work enjoys worldwide acceptance translated into hundreds of languages.  Like the Bible and Saint Augustine Hippo”s Confessions, it is a perpetual best seller.  One of my major concerns is that literary charlatans, especially the phonies who line their pockets by exploiting Rumi, posing as experts, and not knowing Farsi or the Persian culture. They contaminate the literary medium. Be careful what you are dished out is Rumi.

Rumi was a Sufi. He held love (Farsi, Eshgh) as the supreme power that transforms lives. Eshgh, the pathway to salvation…Eshgh, the gate to the world of knowledge, cognition, learning and transcendence. In the contrary to common belief, Sufi is not a branch of Islam. Looking at the writing of Plato who recorded the teachings of Socrates, we know that Socrates, the Ostad, himself was a Sufi. The Sermon of the Mount and the five part Gospel of Matthew (just like Pentateuch that has five parts) could not have been written by anyone but a Sufi or one who holds Love as the ultimate in human to human and human to God relationships.  Rumi held that the solution to human problems lies within. Not in some creepy Morshed (guru) who preaches to just submit your soul and remit your pocketbook…  Although in the 13th century little was known about chemistry of the brain and neurotransmitters, Rumi strongly suggested to seek solution to our problems within (Farsi, doroon), our thoughts, our bodies, and our inner secrets (Farsi, Asrar).

Rumi was anti-cleric, anti-dogma, anti-exclusion, and anti-religious pretense (hypocrisy). The French Philosoph, as he was called, François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), the well-known 18th century thinker and writer, has referred extensively to the intellectual construct of Rumi and Rumi’s treatment of deism, love and toleration.

Today, I am offering a few lines of Rumi’s wisdom translated by a learned scholar, Nader Khalili.

Ghazal 1393

I came alive
I was tears
I became laughter

all because of love
when it arrived
my temporal life
from then on
changed to eternal

love said to me
you are not
crazy enough
you don’t
fit this house

I went and
became crazy,
crazy enough
to be in chains

love said
you are not
intoxicated enough
you don’t
fit the group

I went and
got drunk,
drunk enough
to overflow
with light-headedness

love said
you are still
too clever
filled with
imagination and skepticism

I went and
became gullible
and in fright
pulled away
from it all

love said
you are a candle
attracting everyone
gathering every one
around you

I am no more
a candle spreading light
I gather no more crowds
and like smoke
I am all scattered now

love said
you are a teacher
you are a head
and for everyone
you are a leader

I am no more
not a teacher
not a leader
just a servant
to your wishes

love said
you already have
your own wings
I will not give you
more feathers

and then my heart
pulled itself apart
and filled to the brim
with a new light
overflowed with fresh life

now when the heavens
are thankful that
because of love
I have become
the giver of light.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Nowruz…

Monday Musings for March 16, 2020
Volume X. No.11/474



Nowruz, Persian (Iranian) New Year

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon)), DLFAPA

Five days hence, Sunday March 21, marks the Iranian New Year, Nowruz. Yes, March 21, the first day of spring, vernal equinox, is also the first day of the Persian New Year. On Thursday March 21, 2019 Iranians celebrate year 5781. My sources in Tehran tell me that most of the 70 plus million Iranians who were mostly pleased with the nuclear accord signed by Iran and US to lift the sanctions, giving the Iranians the best New Year’s present.  Alas, the present administration took it all away and resumed severe sanctions on Iran. Iranians feel that the nuclear accord was a good new year present (in Farsi, Eidee). However, no matter what, the Iranians are not going to let anything spoil the festivities. The Persian people are used to political vicissitudes and domestic extremes. After all, the Persian civilization (the Medes) was there before Moses (1590 BC-1470 BC, lived to be 120 years) wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (scholarship notwithstanding)……

The Persians were there before the Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian law code, was written in 1772 BC.

Persia, the Persian Empire and Zoroaster gave humanity monotheism, and issued the first declaration of human rights. Persia was there before the Old and the New Testaments….

Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, was there before the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation…. Monotheism was exhorted in Gatha and the Book of Gushtasb by Zarathustra before Moses wrote about Yahweh….

The Zoroastrian code of conduct: “Good thought, Good word, and Good deed” was there long before the Ten Commandments…

Cyrus the Great of Persia liberated the Jews 500 years BC (Babylonian Captivity). There are dozens of references made to him and to the Persian Empire in the Bible. In Isaiah 45 Cyrus is named Messiah. Additional references may be found in Chronicles, Ezra, Daniels, Hezekiah, Maccabees 1, Maccabees 2, Maccabees 3, Maccabees 4, Maccabees 5, Esdras, Sirach, and Esther

The world’s first charter of human rights, Cyrus Cylinder, housed in the British Museum, completed its American tour three years ago. It was exhibited in Arthur M Sackler Gallery (the late Dr. Sackler was a psychiatrist) and J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles, before returning back to the British Museum. The writing is elegant cuneiform (Mikhi) script (image below).

America has a special historical link with Persia. When the founding fathers were contemplating the architectonics of the US Constitution and the relationship between the central/federal government and the 13 colonies, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin referred to the Persian Empire, and copied the form of Persian government, a Republic, where individual states are sovereign and autonomous. Also, Benjamin Franklin copied the ancient Persian postal service and adopted the Persian mail system (Peyk).

Persia’s contribution to music has been vast and innumerable. Let me illustrate one. No matter where in the world a symphony is playing when the concertmaster enters the symphony hall to tune the orchestra before the maestro takes over, it is the oboe, a pure Persian instrument that gives the first note to guide the concertmaster to tune the orchestra. It is universal and with no exception. It is the Persian instrument, the oboe, that set the tune for the entire orchestra.

In more modern history, the late President Truman often in his speeches referred to Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire’s achievements.

The Persian New Year, vernal equinox, when the day and night are equal and exactly 12 hours long, representing nature’s exquisite justice, was celebrated 5781 years ago, in the month of Edar Yek (1) which followed the month of Shavat, as the Persian New Year or Newruz. Therefore, on March 21, vernal equinox, we celebrate Nowruz, the first day of the Persian calendar 5781.

We are Persians; we are inheritors of such dazzling history and civilization…

And with humility and gratitude, we share this joyous occasion with all humanity. Happy Nowruz (New Day, New Year) to all.


                                                                                                The Cyrus Cylinder


 *The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Indian Music (Part II)…

Monday Musings for Monday March 9, 2020
Volume X, No. 10/473


Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Last Monday, March 2, 2020,we devoted this space to a discussion of Sufism and the music of renowned Indian musician Hazrat Inayat Khan, the Indian Sufi-musician and his mesmeric instrument, the Vina. Well, Let me bring you the sad news of the death of another Indian singer-musician-genius, very much of the same mold of Inayat Khan. He was Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, dead at 88. This illustrious Indian musician with charisma of Napoleon, genius of Bach, and improvisational gift of Mozart with the golden voice of Orfeo, has orphaned the multitude of music lovers. We mourn his passing. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was given the title of “Singer of India”.

Every nation has its own music. Portugal has Fado; Spain, Fandango, Flaminco, Sardana, Bolero, and Zambro; Italian, using Richard Wagner’s (1813 -1883) term, Gesamtkunswerk of all musical art forms, the Opera; French, Jean Baptist Lully’s dotted rhythm overture to the majestic French Operas; German, Singspiel; Vienna, classical music; Persia, the Octatonic scale, harmonic implications, and unparalleled melisma. America, jazz and blue grass; and India, the taansRagasabhangs or hymns, and the incomparable medieval Marathi saint-poets songs. Pandit Joshi was the consummate “Ostad“, master of all the Hindustani music.

The first time I saw Bhimsen sing in Mumbai, I thought he was having a convulsion on the stage. He did not. That was his all-consuming style.

Music seemed to require him to use every part of his body. As one critic wrote, “From a slow, mesmerized, almost motionless start and his eyes would roll upwards, foreshadowing the ascent to the notes that emerged from his distended, gaping mouth. His hand flailed, as though reaching for some imagined object just out of his grasp. Perhaps Joshi was trying to bring back to earth a soaring note from one of his magnificent taans, the series of rapid melodic passages with which classical singers in the Hindustani tradition of Northern India demonstrate their skills.”

Pandit Joshi had a very modest start, born to the Dharwad region, State of Bombay in British India. He grew up on the devotional songs his mother sang inviting people to prayer. They are called Azaan, and the person who sings them from the Mosque’s minaret is called Muaazen. But he had access to 788 rpm discs and was introduced to western and classical music. He studied under Abdul Karim Khan, the great master of Kirana School. He was an industrious fellow practicing his art as many as 12 hours a day. He also traveled extensively. He was a man of faith and overcame his addiction to alcohol through resolute abstinence. His favorite music which illustrates his faith in God Krishna was a rage..

In my view he was an Orfeo for the 21st century with Orfeo’s fabled magical and mystical voice capable of opening the doors to Hades, but without Orfeo’s vanity and narcissism. His music is available for you to enjoy.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Khan’s Music…

Monday Musings for March 2, 2020
Volume X,  No. 8/472


Meymandi on Sufism, Hazrat Inayat Khan and His Music

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

To understand Hazrat Inayat Khan, his branch of Sufism and his music, it is appropriate first to attempt to describe Sufism. Popular references define Sufism as a branch of Islam which suggests that Sufism emerged after 620 AD, the birth of Islam. I submit that this is an incorrect assumption. Sufism as a way of life was there long before Islam.  There are theologians like Yale Jeroslav Pelikan who suggest Sufism may be the essence of ancient Greek philosophy and Christianity. Sufism is a remarkable combination of devotion, discipline, awareness, mixed with compassion, altruism, forgiveness and deference. Many scholars of antiquity believe that Socrates, Zarathustra, even Moses, the author Pentateuch, and Jesus Christ himself, the new Moses and the new law giver, carried and preached the essence of Sufism. In Sufism, pharisaic exactitude, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” are discouraged.  The ultimate goal of Sufism is “love”, not erotic love, not philia love but the transcendental and ethereal closeness to God. The closest definition of that brand of love, in Greek “Agape”, the love the Yahweh, the love of God, the love of Ahura Mazda, is defined by total tolerance and acceptance of one’s self and one’s fellow human.  This is the kind of love the Lord has for us God’s children and we should have for one another. With these basic principles one may understand why many scholars and theologians link Sufism to pre-Islamic era.

Because Sufis are individualists, there are many sects of Sufis.  While they perpetuate the same basic philosophy of love, tolerance, and closeness to God, they offer alternative roads. A Sufi leader, Shah Nematollah Vali (1330-1431), born in Syria, travelled extensively throughout the world and finally chose to spend the latter part of his life in my hometown, Kerman, Iran. He is buried in Mahan, 22 miles south of Kerman, under a beautiful blue dome of mosaic tiles in an oasis of ancient tall trees and running brooks.  He has one of the largest followings throughout the world.  He teaches his followers to love God and be loved by God.  “The being of the lover and Beloved Are the Same, For Where is Love Without A lover and Beloved to be Found?”

Another Sufi of great influence is Hazrat (means lofty and honorable) Inayat (means generosity) Khan (means lofty). Born 1882, died 1927, an Indian Muslim Sufi who was trained to be a scholar, a pharisaic teacher of rhetoric; but became attracted to Sufi teachings and fell in love with music.  He established the “Sufi Order of the West” with the lofty goal of spreading the message of Sufi way of life to London and the West.  He was a contemporary of Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), the Lebanese mystic, poet and artist.  They had a close relations. There is a passage in Gibran’s book Prophet which starts with this line: “To know the pain of too much tenderness…”  thought to be written for and sent to Inayat Khan.  In his short life, Inayat Khan wrote 15 books on various topics of interest including psychology, sociology, sex, marriage, and yes music. Inayat Khan was a master vina player. Vina is a string instrument of India that has a long fretted fingerboard with resonating gourds at each end.  It is a technically complicated instrument and takes years to master it.  Inayat Kahn was a master vina player. He said that he gets closer to God when his fingers are striking the strings and his soul soaring the ether.  He wrote extensively about “music being an instrument of divinity and a road map to God”.   Inayat Khan called music the “Devine Art” while all other art forms are not so called.  He inserted that we may certainly see God in all arts and all sciences but in music alone, we see God free from all forms and thoughts.  He further posited that in every other art there is possibility of distraction and idolatry.  Every thought, every word, has a form.  Sound alone is free from form.  Music defies the tyranny of shape and form.  It offers the listener complete freedom…     

In an essay “Spiritual Development by the Aid of Music” from his book The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Vol. II, Inayat Khan asserts that “Music is a miniature of the harmony of the whole universe, for the harmony of the universe is life itself, and humans, being a miniature of the universe, show harmonious and inharmonious chords in their pulsations, in the beat of their hearts, in their vibration, rhythm and tone. Their health or illness, their joy or discomfort, all show the music or lack of music in their life.”  He continues his explanation of what music teach us?

Music helps us to train ourselves in harmony, and it is this which is the magic or the secret behind music. When you hear music that you enjoy, it tunes you and puts you in harmony with life. Therefore we need music; we long for music.  Many say that they do not care for music, but these have not heard music. If they really heard music; it would touch their souls, and then certainly they could not help loving it. If not, it would only mean that they had not heard music sufficiently, and had not made their heart calm and quiet in order to listen to it, and to enjoy and appreciate it. Besides music develops that faculty by which one learns to appreciate all that is good and beautiful in the form of art and science, and in the form of music and poetry one can then appreciate every aspect of beauty.  What deprives us of all the beauty around us is his heaviness of body or heaviness of heart. We are pulled down to earth, and by that everything becomes limited; but when we shake off that heaviness and joy comes, we feel light. All good tendencies such as gentleness and tolerance, forgiveness, love and appreciation, all these beautiful qualities come by being light; light in the mind, in the soul, and in the body.  What is wonderful about music is that it helps us to concentrate or mediate independently of thought – and therefore music seems to be the bridge over the gulf between form and the formless. If there is anything intelligent, effective and at the same time formless, it is music. Poetry suggests form, line and color suggest form, but music suggests no form. It creates also that resonance which vibrates through the whole being, lifting the thought above the denseness of matter; it almost turns matter into spirit, into its original condition, through the harmony of vibrations touching every atom of one’s whole being.  Beauty of line and color can go so far and no further; the joy of fragrance can go a little further; but music touches our innermost being and in that way produces new life, a life that gives exaltation to the whole being, raising it to that perfection in which lies the fulfillment of our life.

I once had the opportunity to chat with Zubin Mahta’s father, Mehli Mahta, in his Los Angeles home. Maestro Mehli Mahta is the founder of Bombay (now Mumbai) Symphony. He was a famous composer, conductor and performer on his own right. He was active as a violinist and conductor in his 90’s. Several years ago, Maestro Mehli Mahta and I spoke of Hazrat Inayat’s Sufism and music.  Just as many Americans, including me, believe that the mystic hand of God had influenced the authorship of the US Constitution, ensuring the divinity of the document, many Indians, Hindu and Muslim alike, believe and feel divinity within them when they listen to Inayat khan’s vina…

Ironically, in his short 45 years lifespan of prolific writing, composing and performing, like Gioachino Rossini and many other music greats, Inayat Khan quit music in midlife.  Here is his explanation:  “I gave up my music because I had received from it all that I had to receive. To serve God one must sacrifice what is dearest to one; and so I sacrificed my music. I had composed songs; I sang and played the vina; and practicing this music I arrived at a stage where I touched the Music of the Spheres. Then every soul became for me a musical note, and all life became music. Inspired by it I spoke to the people, and those who were attracted by my words listened to them, instead of listening to my songs. Now, if I do anything, it is to tune souls instead of instruments; to harmonize people instead of notes. If there is anything in my philosophy, it is the law of harmony: that one must put oneself in harmony with oneself and with others. I have found in every word a certain musical value, a melody in every thought, harmony in every feeling; and I have tried to interpret the same thing, with clear and simple words, to those who used to listen to my music. I played the vina until my heart turned into this very instrument; then I offered this instrument to the divine Musician, the only musician existing. Since then I have become His flute; and when He chooses, He plays His music. The people give me credit for this music, which in reality is not due to me but to the Musician who plays on His own instrument.’

Final word:  Music transcends religion, geography, ethnicity, locality, and people.  Music is the one art form that takes us closest to the ether of tomorrow.  Enjoy…


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Lincoln…

Monday Musings for February 24, 2020
Volume X, No. 8/471


Abraham Lincoln:  A Book Review and Essay on Mental Health

Presidents’ Day—Part II

 By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

A Personal Note: Of the 45 US Presidents, only four were born in February,  The first and foremost about whom we wrote last week is the father of America, George Washington (born February 22, died December 14, 1799).  The other three are Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911, died June 5, 2004); William Henry Harrison (born February 9, 1773, died April 4, 1841), Harrison died of pneumonia only 31 days into his first term) and of course Abraham Lincoln (Born February 12, 1809, assassinated April 15, 1865). Today’s “MM” is  dedicated to President Lincoln. Sorry for the delay.)


February 12 is Lincoln’s birthday. It is somewhat of an irony that George Washington, the grand patriarch of our beloved nation, was born on February 16. We wrote about GW last Monday. Today’s edition of “Monday Musings” is devoted to the 16th US President, Abraham Lincoln, whose decisions saved our country from splitting in half. In observance of the occasion, I am offering the review of the book “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk, publisher Houghton Mifflin Company.

When a publisher sends a book for review, I routinely cast an editorial “screening” glance to separate substance from fluff by noting the book’s proportion of text to notes, bibliography, and index. A scholarly and substantial book usually carries an extensive set of notes and references for almost every line of the book. A high volume of notes and an extensive bibliography assure the reader that the book is not fluff. Such is Shenk’s remarkable book on Lincoln. The title is misleading. Although the book deals with Lincoln’s depression and melancholia, it is really a psychobiography of Lincoln a la Freud’s work on Leonard da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Dostoevsky. Part of the book reads very much like Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart the review of which the faithful readers of this space recall from an earlier day.

But there is something unique about this book. It is a book that seduces the reader. I fell in love with the book, not with the subject, not with the author’s erudition and intellectual prowess, not with the brilliant syntax and craftsmanship of the composition, but with the book itself. For me, an objective book reviewer engaged in this pursuit for more than 50 years, it is a rare phenomenon that the book itself becomes the object of love.

Well, the book has a prelude, and introduction and three parts with subsections dealing chronologically with Lincoln’s birth, growth, development, political maturation, education, religion, social interaction and finally death. But first a word about the author.

Joshua Wolf Shenk is neither an academic historian nor a Lincoln specialist. He is not of stature of famed Douglas Wilson, author of “Lincoln’s Sword” or Allen Guezlo, the internationally renowned leading Lincoln scholar.  Readers might recognize Joshua from the pages of New Yorker, Harper, and Atlantic Monthly. He is referred to as an “independent scholar.”  In this book, he shows command of psychopathology of depression, a good understanding of DSM IV (Diagnostic statistical Manuel IV) and a keen insight into human nature. He seems to understand the comprehensive model of bio-psycho-social dynamics in the genesis and evolution of mental illness. But none of these explains why the book had a mesmeric effect on me. I guess as a psychiatrist in my practice dealing with psychic trauma and life tragedies, it is comforting to see the story of a man like Lincoln, with incredible childhood depravity, adverse upbringing, having lived a life of domestic slavery, constant beating and emotional denigration and put down, pull himself out of psychological sewer, literally clean up, educate himself, and ultimately become the 16th President of the United States of America. It is this subtle message reflective of Pauline theology of redemption, hope, love, faith, and possibilities that generated the uncommon mesmeric effect on me.

The book starts with a startling chapter on Lincoln’s family history of mental illness. His uncle Tom Lincoln, according to court records had a “deranged mind”. So did his parents. Lincoln’s parents were born in Virginia and crossed the Appalachian Mountains and came to Kentucky in the late 18th century. They married in 1806 and had three children, Sarah, born Feb 19, 1807; Abraham, born February 12, 1809; and his brother Thomas born in 1811. They were all prone to deep depression. Lincoln’s mother Nancy died on October 5, 1818. She was about 35 years old. Lincoln was nine. Along the way, in addition to Lincoln’s mother, Lincoln lost his uncle and aunt. His care was left to a twenty-year-old cousin, during the absence of Abe’s father who returned to Kentucky to court his second bride. Lincoln was beaten, mistreated and abused during those years. There are a lot of well documented accounts that Lincoln was self-taught. As a child he read all the books he could find. Tom Lincoln, Abe’s father, at some point started to oppose his son’s reading and education. The relationship between father and son was conflicted and abusive; Tom Lincoln would beat young Abe mercilessly. However, Lincoln continued to read and memorize and became very popular with his friends and fellow workers. It is recorded that he was not sad and depressed during his teen years because he had many friends and knew more than all of his friends put together. He did not attend a university to learn law. “I studied with nobody,” he said. A lawyer named Lynn McNutty Greene wrote that “Abraham Lincoln was extremely ambitious.”  Greene remembered Lincoln telling him that all the folks seem to have good sense but none of them become distinguished, and he believed it was for him to become so.

Tracing the mental status of Mr. Lincoln, one discovers that he was suicide prone. At one time, a neighbor, Mentor Graham, related that “Lincoln told me that he felt like committing suicide often.” The neighbors and friends were compelled to keep watch and ward over him. This was even more pronounced when Lincoln’s first love, a bright, pretty young woman, Anna Mayes Rutledge, with flowing blond hair and blue eyes became ill. She died August, 1835. Lincoln was desperately in love with Anna. He suffered his first bout of major depression after her death. He had a second and more devastating bout of major depression in 1841. The repeat episode of major depression was precipitated by many causes among them breaking his engagement with his wife to be, Mary Todd, possibly “because of his affection for another woman.” Again, his friends and relatives were fearful that Lincoln might commit suicide. They removed guns and knives from his environ.

There is another set of assumptions that relates Lincoln’s depression to Marfan Syndrome.  Marfan is an inherited genetic disorder that diminishes the strength of connective tissue from tendons to heart valves. Persons afflicted with Marfan are tall, gangly, with hyper flexion of joints. Marfan along with other connective tissue disorders such as Ehler-Danlos Syndrome are often associated with depression. An aside: the famed magician virtuoso violinist Paganini who could produce those fabulous high notes on his instrument, by hperflexing his arm and fingers had Ehler-Danlos Syndrome and for most of his life suffered from depression. Robert Schumann who wished his fingers were like Paganini’s to do acrobatics on the keyboard, suffered from Bipolar Disorder. He would put his fingers through painful stretch exercises to make them longer and more limber….

Back to Lincoln, I do know of several sources who have studied Lincoln’s connective tissue disease including the eminent researcher, Victor A. McKusick, Professor of Medical Genetics at Johns Hopkins. He along with other Lincoln scholars, including Gabor Borritt, Adam Borritt, Douglas Wilson and Allan Guelzo, collectively state that Lincoln did not have Marfan Syndrome.

The second part of the book deals with the dynamics of Lincoln as a self-made man. He won elections, made friends, and with his eloquence mesmerized his audience. Lincoln continued to be ambitious, determined, and industrious. He was a devoted Christian with flavors of “old school of Calvinism”, and “hard shell Baptism” running through his speeches. However, Lincoln was a pragmatist and had a keen sense of reality.

According to Allen Guelzo, the leading Lincoln scholar, Lincoln was a serious philosophical thinker who kept abreast of leading ideas of his time. An indication of his pragmatism, as an example, in 1846 he wrote “What I understand is called ‘the Doctrine of Necessity’, that is the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control.”  It was John Stuart Mill who first used the phrase “Philosophical Necessity.” The author quotes Herman Melville, Lincoln’s contemporary and fellow melancholic who suffered deep depression, “The in tensest light of reason and revelation combined cannot shed such blazing light upon deeper truths in man, as well sometimes proceed from his own profoundest gloom. Utter darkness then is his light, and cat-like he instinctively sees all objects through a medium which is mere blindness to common vision.

Part Three of the book deals with Lincoln’s Presidency and the fierce civil war which he fought with conviction and courage. He was absolutely against the notion of the United States splitting into two nations. He married Mary Todd, and they had four boys, only one of who lived to maturity. In 1858 Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for US Senate. He lost the election, but in debating with Douglas he gained a national reputation that won him the Republican Party nomination for President in 1860. As President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. On January 1, 1863, he issued The Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865 Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington by John Wilkes Booth, an actor, who somehow thought he was helping the South.

In his epilogue, the author states that he went to spend a weekend with the Association of Lincoln Presenters at their annual convention in Beckley, West Virginia. Seeing all these men in black suits and stovepipe hats and beards shaved above the chin was an instructive experience. However, he concludes that “it is a generic and inherent flaw of biography that in order to wrestle a figure, in this instance the formidable figure of Lincoln, onto the page, three dimensions get turned into two.” However, I believe that the young scholar, Joshua Wolf Schenk has done an excellent job of painting a three- dimensional picture of Lincoln. Bravo!

Lastly, this book has one perhaps unintended but welcome social and political implication. Here we have a politician, Lincoln, with depression genes atavistically skulking his psychic space. He had several major depressive episodes (nervous breakdowns in 19th century parlance) well known to the public. Yet he rose to become President of this country. I was thinking of the late Thomas Eagleton, the former US Senator from Missouri, and George McGovern’s VP nominee on the 1972 Democratic ticket who had to withdraw because of controversy over history of depression. It seems the public tolerance of mental illness has drastically decreased since 1841, Lincoln’s last episode of major Depression, to 1972, when it was discovered that Eagleton had treatment for depression. Are we turning backward?


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On George Washington…

Monday Musings for February 17, 2020
Volume X, No.7/470

Washington (Landsdowne) by Gilbert Stuart, 1796

Books  About  George  Washington, The  Father  of  Our Country

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DFLAPA*

(Editor’s Note: Today, February 17, 2020 is the Presidents’ Day. Five days hence, February 22, will mark the natal anniversary of America’s first President.  The proximity of the two dates is a divine coincidence.  Therefore, today, It is our honor to observe the birth of the father of our country, the great patriarch and the first President of the United States of America, the Great George Washington, or as the French call him ‘George Washington Le Grand’ by reviewing the literature about him.  Next week we will observe the birth of the 16th President of our beloved country, Abraham Lincoln):

In spite of the rivers of ink spilled on and about America’s founding fathers, the pantheon of these towering and majestic intellects remains relatively untouched. For example, few know George Washington’s reading list. Few know the favorite books that Thomas Jefferson found to be page turners and to which he referred repeatedly. Few know the pocket edition of which author was the constant companion of Benjamin Franklin, the scientist, the politician, the diplomat, the bon vivant and the ladies’ man of Paris. Few know where Patrick Henry learned his gift of oratory and rhetoric of which Thomas Jefferson was jealous. I am proposing some young entrepreneur PhD candidate in English literature to collect the names of all America’s Founding Fathers, research their preference in reading, theater, literature, the arts, music, composers, theology, and science, and give us a 24 volume each 1000 pages collection to satisfy their PhD dissertation. After all, Eusebius of Pamphili, Josephus, accomplished this exact feat, writing 24 volume biography of Moses and Jesus in Aramaic…

In this space over the past few years, we have made periodic and sporadic efforts to answer some of these issues for the curious. The article on “Thomas Jefferson, the Fiddler”, published several years ago, brought us enormous volume of mail. The response to the article on what GW liked in plays and books, published four years ago, reflected enormous interest in the topic and almost overpowered our inbox capacity. This article is a focus on who and what biographers and historians have written about the Founding Father and CEO of the American enterprise, the Captain of America’s soul, and the righteous George Washington.

The latest biography of George Washington is by Ronald Chernow, the American biographer who is the author of Alexander Hamilton, The House of Morgan, and Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., among other works. Author Ron Chernow, born in 1949, is a Yale and Oxford educated lad. He studied English literature and is now a freelance author. Washington: A Life, the Penguin Press, 904 pages, $40.00, is remarkable in that it examines best Washington’s personality and instincts. In my opinion, this is the best book ever written about Washington in one volume. The purpose of this essay is not to review Chernow’s book, but to offer our readers a fairly complete compendium of books written about GW from 1800 until now.

The efforts of Douglas Southall Freeman and James Thomas Flexner (yes, he was related to Abraham Flexner of 1910 who revamped American Medicine about whom we have written extensively}.  The authors have offered a multi-volume work on GW which brought the Pulitzer Prize to both authors. Flexner has a one-volume Washington: The Indispensable Man which is a must read if one wishes to know how GW’s mind worked.

We all know the Washington myth of cutting down the cherry tree perpetrated by Parson Weem’s 1800 tale. Douglas Southall Freeman’s biography of GW is the closest work to a psychobiographical account of George Washington, factually reporting on GW’s hot tempered youth, his narcissistic and self-adulating tendencies, gradually being replaced with concerns for his country. Flexner tried to outdo Freeman in his four volume work written 1965 to 1972. However, Freeman’s seven volumes (1948-1957) collected work remains unsurpassed. Both authors completely debunk all myths about GW, and offer the reader a naked and brilliant account of a vulnerable human being. Reading these volumes gives one the feeling that GW was not only a General, a leader, a father figure, but he also had a theological sense of himself. He demonstrated how the powers of introspection and self-examination bring about abundant possibilities, hope, and redemption to our lives. This is very much consonant with Pauline theology in the New Testament. GW lived a life that clearly represents transformation of a self-serving narcissist to a public serving altruist. After all, is this not the primary purpose of all world religions?

There are other GW’s biographers: Joseph Ellis’s His Excellency, a rather comparatively short biography, 320 pages (reviewed for our readers in 2004), and Richard Brookhiser’s elegiac and elegant Founding Father in 1996. The author called it a “moral biography” in the tradition of what some reviewers such as Carl Rollyson call “a biography in the tradition of Plutarch”. Mr. Rollyson opines that “Washington dominated the national scene far longer than Abraham Lincoln and FDR, and scholars have been loath to take on the whole man within the covers of a single volume…” Mr. Chernow ought to be congratulated to have triumphantly accomplished the feat in one 960 page volume. We have still other books about GW:  the admirable, if truncated, 2005 book by Edward Lingel’s General George Washington and 2006 Peter R. Henrique’s thematic Realistic Visionary.  Having critically read and studied all these books about the Father of our country, in my view the Freeman and Flexner volumes are the most comprehensive and intellectually stimulating of all.

Finally, for students of George Washington, and for that matter, for every person who proclaims to be an American, from school children to the Justices of the US Supreme Court, it is not only desirable but necessary to know and possibly memorize George Washington’s’ Farewell Address, along with the other three essential components of what is known as America’s political literature. They are the US Constitution, The Bill of Rights and the 85 articles comprising The Federalist Papers.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.  He is the 2011 inductee to Raleigh Hall of Fame; 2015 Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony and 2016 recipient of the NC Award, Fine Arts

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On Valentine’s Day…

Monday Musings for February 10, 2020
Volume X, No. 6/469


An Essay on Valentine’s Day

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DSc (Hon), DLFAPA*

(This year’s Valentine’s Day is on Thursday February 14. Some reflections on history and biochemistry of Valentine’s Day):



 History and Origin:

The word Valentine has to do with human sacrifice. Self-sacrifice and martyrdom are not new. They go back to the Iron age when Virgil in his Book IV, dramatically depicted the departure of Aeneas for the Trojan war leading to Dido’s plunging a knife into her breast and sacrificing herself for the love of Aeneas. And we know that during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-311 AD) Christians were caught and fed to the lions. Were those professed Christians who risked their lives and became dinner for the Emperor’s hungry lions on a suicide mission as are today’s fanatic suicide bombers of Islam? A good question to reflect upon…the martyr sacrificed self. The fanatic bomber(s) sacrifices self and kills innocent others. That is murder. Fortunately, things got better for Christians after Emperor Constantine (272-337 AD) converted to Christianity in 313 AD. The same persecuted Christians under Diocletian were now pampered and given cushiony jobs under Constantine. What a difference a mere 75 years make!

History tells us that there were three Saint Valentines and the one we westerners strongly identify is the Saint Valentine of Rome who was a priest martyred in 269 AD by the orders of Diocletian. Some 200 years later Pope Gelasius I (he was the Pope when Saint Augustine ’345-430 AD’ became the Bishop of Hippo) decided to recognize Saint Valentine’s love and devotion for Christianity and established by papal order the Saint Valentine’s Day. It was not until Chaucer days in the fourteenth century England when the feast of February 14 first became associated with romantic love, a pure Anglo invention.

For this was on seynt Valentynysday Whan euery bryd cometh there to ches his mate.”

Chaucer Parlement of Foules, circa 1381.

Our Saint Valentine comes from mid-15th century, “sweetheart chosen on St. Valentine’s Day,” from L.L. Valentinus, the name of an early Italian saint (from L. Valentia ”strength, capacity;”). Choosing a sweetheart on this day originated 14th century as a custom in English and French court circles- meaning “letter or card sent to a sweetheart”. The romantic association of the day is said to be from it being around the time when birds choose their mates.

For the past seven centuries the invention has served us well. Imagine the number of weddings that have been facilitated and children conceived by Saint Valentine. Incidentally, the etymology of Valentine is from Latin valentines means valence, and the word value takes its roots from the same origin.


Many people think that falling in love mimics a state of psychosis- a confirmation of this notion comes from Shakespeare’s insistence of the “fine frenzy” of the poet- the madman and being in love are indistinguishable insanities. We all have done the crazy “falling in love” things that there are to do-up all night, romantic breakfasts at dawn, impulsive trips to exotic isles, heartfelt torrents of vows, and suddenly becoming a poet fluid with sentiments and expressive powers… There are a whole host of brain chemical and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, catecholamine, indolamines, endorphins etc., involved in libidinal activities.

Recently however, we have begun to associate the phenomenon of falling in love with a chemical that churns in our body causing us to do crazy things. The molecule is called Phenylethylamine (PEA), a first cousin of amphetamine, which the body produces in its adrenal glands. PEA causes excitement just as amphetamines do. However, it is not as disruptive as amphetamine. Leading scientists and neuro-endocrinologists insist that biochemistry and psychiatry have a definite place in explaining the phenomenon of romance and falling in love. Why should this be left exclusively to poets and Harlequin romance writers. Scientists, too, have a lot to say about it.

There are people who are in constant need of excitement and romance. These are probably the people who have affairs outside of marriage, or those who have multiple marriages while chasing their need for constant stimulation and excitement. These individuals engage in many love affairs. It is suggested that high PEA victims may be suffering from a bipolar affective disorder (manic depressive) form of illness. In order to reach their highs, they must be in love and constantly enjoy the infusion of PEA in their body and brain. Examples of famous PEA levels are folks like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Some years ago, British psychiatrists coined the appropriate diagnosis of hysteroid dysphoria to explain the phenomenology of high serum PEA. It was never accepted by the American Psychiatric Association and as to what it leads people to do. A male reader, an emeritus university professor wrote and suggested that we should include the male genre. After all, we have had our share of sustained elevated PEA in males, folks such as Don Juan, Machiavelli, Bill Clinton…And do not forget our current President…


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He was the 2011 inductee to Raleigh Hall of Fame; 2015 inductee, Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony and 2016 recipient of the NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Mozart…

Monday Musings for February 3, 2020
Volume X. No. 5/468

Natal Anniversary of Mozart: The Mystery of Mozart’s Genius

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

The past couple of months have been so full of events and topics of importance that we neglected to devote time to the God of classical music, Mozart. Monday January 27, is Mozart’s birthday. He was born in 1756 and died on December 5, 1791. We celebrate the gift of his birth and observe his death in today’s “MM”.

Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most enigmatic individuals of the 18th century. He was in poor health throughout his short life. His medical history shows that he had smallpox, tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, rheumatism, gum disease, and possible cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis all caused by excessive use of alcohol and possible sexual indiscretions. Toward the end of his life, he had poor hygiene, most likely because of poverty, and had to move to a smaller apartment with limited accommodations and facilities.

Mozart was enigmatic because of ineptness, inelegant personal conduct, and his lack of social grace. Yet in his operas, he demonstrates deep understanding of human nature. He takes us through a most complex circuitous labyrinth of psychological wonders that is humanly impossible. As I listen to his operas over and over, I keep asking myself how did he know so much? For example, his opera King of Crete, Idomeneo, set in 1200 BC, is an incredible psychological study of human possibilities, frailties, feelings and complex psychodynamics of behavior. Medical literature do refer to Mozart’s scatologia/lalia and coprophilia as symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, a neurologic disorder the victims of which experience uncontrollable urge to make foul noises and use curse words. Modern medicine has pinpointed the biochemical etiology of the disease, namely excess dopamine concentration in the basal ganglia of the brain. This condition is neuroendocrinologically the opposite of Parkinson’s disease where there is a paucity of Dopamine in the basal ganglia.

Dispensing with superlatives and avoiding the use of adjectival palates of hero-worshiping, nonetheless, an observer is made to confess that Mozart was undoubtedly a genius. Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Shakespeare, Goethe, Ferdowsi, Avicenna, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), there are only a handful of them…Classical music, especially Mozart’s music, like classical books, such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Oeuvre, have a theme, are written in noble language and are lasting across generations. All of Mozart’s 626 pieces are abundantly endowed with these basic qualities. They have a theme, they are written in noble and elegant musical notes and are transgenerational.

In his short life of 35 years, Mozart composed a known body of work, 626 pieces, of lasting elegance and complex musical intricacies, some of which are miraculous. Let’s take the summer 1788. How could anyone compose symphonies and operas in a hot summer, combating illness and mourning the death of his mother? in six short weeks, Mozart composed four master pieces of unequal elegance and sublimity. And, yet in the depth of despair and depression, he composed the glorious Jupiter Symphony in C Major K 551. It is beyond mortals. It takes more than six weeks to sit down eight hours a day to just copy the music of the fabulous compositions. Yes, in the hot summer of 1778 when Mozart’s was mourning the death of his mother, and processing his father’s lament and accusation that Mozart killed his mother, because of his ill behavior of leaving the nest and abandoning family,. Reading Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart with focus on summer of 1778 leads one to believe in Mozart as a miracle…

There are literally billions of words written about Mozart, his life and music. In addition to Solomon’s book, I have found another respected musicologist and dramaturge, Joseph T. Kerman, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley, born April 13, 1924; died March 17, 2014, one month short of 90, whose credible analysis of Mozart’s music is most enlightening. Kerman, too, has much to say about Mozart’s summer of 1788 and his final composition, Mozart’s Requiem K 626. Is a delight to read.

Readers of this space recall an essay on special children of God, we listed Mozart as follows: “Not four score and seven years before Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but about ten thousand years ago, the age of Neolithic man, God set out to send man on the road to perfection. He sent the ancient Persian prophet, Zaratustra (Zoroaster), as early as 500 BC, to bring us the concept of good and evil which in modern day philosophy is known as epistemological dualism. The Sumerians brought us literacy and language. The Egyptians taught us social order and government; the Persians, participatory democracy; the Greeks, city-state and citizen representation; the Babylonians gave us devotion and discipline; and Jesus came bringing us civility, hope and love.1215 years later, the Anglo-Saxons brought us the Magna Carta. And in 1756 we were given Mozart through whom music flowed like water running through the fountains of Tivoli.” Yes, in my view, Mozart, a flawed human was basically a divine prophet. With unparalleled beauty and sublimity, he was ordained to fulfill what Bach started with Clavier Book I and Book II. We also recall in the essay in this space on Thomas Jefferson and his fondness for music, how he arranged to meet Mozart. Jefferson had planned to ask Mozart to compose a piece in memory of Jefferson’s late beloved wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, very much like Bach’s commissioned pieces by the Goldberg family The Goldberg Variations. However, Jefferson was turned off by Mozart because of his “ineptness and lack of grace… The gentleman is socially uncouth and frivolous…” Jefferson said. Yet, Jefferson loved Mozart’s “heavenly music” and traveled long distances to listen to professional performances of Mozart’s music. References to the relationship between Jefferson and Mozart are at best recondite.

Yes, Mozart belongs to the circle of Gods in the distant cosmos of tomorrows…We are thankful for having Mozart, and today, with acute awareness of the gift of Mozart, we mourn his death, but enjoy celebrating his music.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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