20 April 2024

The Greeks have a word for it:
35, autopsy and biopsy

The Bio Tower in the Bio area of Rethymnon … the Greek words βίος (bios) means ‘life’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I hate packing, even for a short journey. I am in danger of two extremes: either I pack too much for a short journey, and find myself lugging around too much luggage; or I fail to pack enough and end up having to buy the bare necessities when I arrive.

I had to cancel a flight from Luton to Dublin because I had left my passport behind. By the time I got back to Stony Stratford it was too late, and too expensive, to book another flight to arrive in time for the book launch I was supposed to be part of.

On another occasion, I left my washbag behind, and found myself searching around Athens late at night for a periptero (περίπτερον) or kiosk that sold toothpaste and a toothbrush.

This time, I remembered to take my inhaler, which is so important for controlling the symptoms of my pulmonary sarcoidosis. But there have been moments of panic in the past when I have even left an inhaler behind.

I remember how I first received the news that I have sarcoidosis. It was about 15 years ago, and I was visiting Bath. The specialist who called from Dublin was trying to tell me the news gently, and gleefully told me he would have a clearer image of my condition after a detailed examination of the autopsy.

‘Autopsy?’ I asked.

He must have heard the shocked response in my voice.

If there was going to be an autopsy, I certainly hoped it was going to be later rather than sooner.

‘Sorry,’ he said apologetically, his team would have a clearer picture of my condition after a detailed examination of the biopsy.

There is a character in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Gus Portokalos, the father of the bride, who seeks the Greek root of every imaginable word, and then deduces that Greeks have been responsible every beneficial invention in civilisation.

Gus Portokalos would certainly have known the difference between autopsy and biopsy, and would have laboriously explained their Greek derivations.

An autopsy, on the other hand, is a post-mortem examination or surgical procedure that involves a thorough examination of a corpse by dissection to determine the cause, mode and manner of death. It may involve performing an examination to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present for research or educational purposes.

Autopsies are usually performed by a pathologist. But in most cases a medical examiner or coroner can determine the cause of death.

The word autopsy has been in use in English since around the 17th century. It derives from the ancient Greek αὐτοψία (autopsia, ‘to see for oneself’), derived from αὐτός (autos, ‘oneself’) and ὄψις (opsis, ‘sight, view’).

A biopsy, on the other hand, is a medical test commonly performed by a surgeon, an interventional radiologist, or an interventional cardiologist. The process involves the extraction of sample cells or tissues for examination to determine the presence or extent of a disease.

The word biopsy is a late introduction to the English language. It followed the introduction of the word biopsie to the medical community in 1879 by a French dermatologist Ernest Besnierin.

The term biopsy reflects the Greek words βίος (bios, ‘life’) and ὄψις (opsis, ‘sight, view’).

Half a lifetime ago, I remember the isolated and forlorn appearance of Bio tower which was threatened with demolition in the 1980s. But since then it become an historical landmark in the eastern suburbs of Rethymnon, and has given its name to the Bio area, which has been developed over the past 30-40 years.

Bio was one of the biggest olive oil factories in Rethymnon, and operated from 1920 until 1940. It gave its name to the Bio area, an abbreviation of the name Βιομηχανική Περιοχή (Biomichaniki Periochi), Industrial Zone.

The chimney is the only remaining structure of the original factory and still stands tall in the centre of a new hotel complex. It was built in 1920, has a height of 45 metres and a diameter of about 3 metres. It has been listed as an official historical monument by the Greek Ministry of Culture, and it has been restored and preserved and given new life by the Bio Suites Hotel, which takes its name from the Bio Tower.

So, autopsy relates to death, and biopsy relates to life; confusing the two could, truly, be a matter of life and death.

The Bio Suites Hotel in Rethymnon … the hotel takes its name from the Bio Tower (Photograph: Patrik Comerford, 2024)

Indeed, Gus Portokalos is the sort of character who might have inspired a T-shirt I saw on sale in Rethymnon, listing a series of words with Greek roots.

While I was in Crete in 2017, I started blogging regularly about Greek words we have adapted and integrated into the English language. Over those two weeks, I posted a series of blog essays on familiar Greek words and – often with a sense of humour – sharing the thoughts that come to mind when I hear or read these words, with references to classical, Biblical and theological themes:

1, Neologism, Νεολογισμός.

2, Welcoming the stranger, Φιλοξενία.

3, Bread, Ψωμί.

4, Wine, Οίνος and Κρασί.

5, Yogurt, Γιαούρτι.

6, Orthodoxy, Ορθοδοξία.

7, Sea, Θᾰ́λᾰσσᾰ.

8,Theology, Θεολογία.

9, Icon, Εἰκών.

10, Philosophy, Φιλοσοφία.

11, Chaos, Χάος.

12, Liturgy, Λειτουργία.

13, Greeks, Ἕλληνες or Ρωμαίοι.

14, Mañana, Αύριο.

15, Europe, Εὐρώπη.

16, Architecture, Αρχιτεκτονική.

17, The missing words.

Later, during a visit to Athens the following month, I added two more words:

18, Theatre, θέατρον, and Drama, Δρᾶμα.

When I was last back in Rethymnon, in September 2021, I decided to continue this theme, and added 16 more words to this lexicon during those two weeks in Crete:

19, Pharmacy, Φᾰρμᾰκείᾱ.

20, Rhapsody, Ραψῳδός.

21, Holocaust, Ολοκαύτωμα.

22, Hygiene, Υγιεινή.

23, Laconic, Λακωνικός.

24, Telephone, Τηλέφωνο.

25, Asthma, Ασθμα.

26, Synagogue, Συναγωγή.

27, Diaspora, Διασπορά.

28, School, Σχολείο.

29, Muse, Μούσα.

30, Monastery, Μοναστήρι.

31, Olympian, Ολύμπιος.

32, Hypocrite, Υποκριτής.

33, Genocide, Γενοκτονία.

34, Cinema, Κινημα.

Now that I’m back in Rethymnon this weekend, I may add a few more Greek words in the days to come, alongside autopsy and biopsy.

Previous word: Cinema, Κινημα

Next word: Exodus, ἔξοδος

A variety of inhalers that have helped me to cope with Sarcoidosis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
21, 20 April 2024

‘What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?’ (John 6: 62) … the Ascended Christ, Christ Pantocrator, in the Dome of the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Easter is a 50-day season that continues until the Day of Pentecost. Tomorrow is the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter IV). Throughout this Season of Easter, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

I am staying in Rethymnon for an extended weekend, having arrived here late on Wednesday afternoon. I am staying in Rethymnon for an extended weekend, having arrived here late on Wednesday afternoon. Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

‘It is the spirit that gives life’ (John 6: 63) … candes lit in prayer in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

John 6: 60-69 (NRSVA):

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

An icon of the Twelve Apostles in the Cathedral in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 20 April 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘The effect of Climate Change in the Solomon Islands.’ This theme was introduced last Sunday by the Revd Kate Komepwaisiho, Trustee of the Melanesian Mission.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (20 April 2024) invites us to pray:

Lord of justice and righteousness, grant your wisdom upon the leaders of all nations, that they may make urgent decisions about climate – peacefully, wisely, and rightly.

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread:
open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Additional Collect:

Risen Christ,
you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope:
strengthen us to proclaim your risen life
and fill us with your peace,
to the glory of God the Father.

Collect on the Eve of Easter IV:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The church bells of the Church of Saint Nektarios in Tsemes, east of Rethymnon, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org