Organon of the Medical art by Wenda Brewster O’Reilly

Author : Wenda Brewster O’Reilly

Book Review by Dr Mansoor Ali

Organon of the Medical Art  By Samuel Hahnemann

Edited & Annotated by Wenda Brewster O’Reilly

Publisher : B jain Publishers New Delhi w

Price : Rs.175/-

Homoeopathy is slow to win its way because of the defective use of the books, as well as defective books, thus producing results that are not striking but merely ordinary – Dr.J.T.Kent in Minor Writings of Homoeopathy

But this translation is widely considered to be the most accurate. This is the translation we have all been waiting for.  Steven Decker and Wenda Brewster O’Reilly have done a great service for the humanity, that is why millions of  copies sold around the world with in short span after release.

Steven Decker, a noted scholar of 19th century German language and philosophy, produced a new interlinear translation from the original text of Hahnemann’s sixth edition; that is, he made a translation in which the full German text appears with a line of English above each line of German, translating every word. He also made a very literal sentence- by-sentence rendering, precisely preserving Hahnemann’s long sentences.

One problem with previous translations is that the reader could not be sure of the accuracy of the translation of key words and therefore, Hahnemann’s exact meaning was not known. To address this problem, O’Reilly provides a glossary of terms in which the German word is given along with the definition that applies to Hahnemann’s usage.

Dr.  Samuel Hahnemann’s pioneering text Organon of the Medical Art, first published in 1810, remains the foundation for all study in this field.  Wenda O’Reilly worked with translator Stephen Decker to produce a version of the book that would preserve Hahnemann’s insights while adapting it to the needs of the modern general reader.

It makes his masterpiece easily accessible and offers great insight into the original German text. The glossary and index are indispensible additions.

It is the most precise translation and adaptation of the sixth edition of Hahnemann’s Organon, to date, using Hahnemann’s own intended imagery, coloration and texture to bring forth the dynamic experience, the kennen, of his monumental work.

The effort Decker put forth in translating the original demonstrates a level of intellectual integrity and precision that even I can recognize. O’Reilly’s editorial and organizational prowess is unmatched.

O’Reilly’s adaptation of the Organon brings much more meaning to light for two reasons: Steven Decker’s translation, and Wenda O’Reilly’s reworking and editing.

O’Reilly then grammatically adapted Decker’s translation. She preserved the language and intent of Hahnemann, but placed this in a sentence structure that is much easier to read than the sentence structure of Hahnemann’s German. She framed the text by placing it into chapters and sections that help orient the reader. To this she added an extensive index (over 50 pages). It’s not just an index of words, but of concepts found in the Organon.

This latest edition being reviewed here, by Wenda Brewster O’Reilly and Steven Decker, is the first English translation that has looked at the whole book, and studied what is being said, as well as HOW it was being said.

Wenda of the Dudgeon translation: “I thought I had difficulty understanding his concepts because the sentence structure was so difficult. That was true to some extent, but now I realize that a lot of the obscurity was in the translation.”

Both the Dudgeon/Boericke and the Kunzli translations were not literal but “conceptual”-they got the main point across but with language that left out the color and flavor of Hahnemann’s words. While the older editions have literally translated Hahnemann’s grammar but not his words, the new edition by Decker and O’Reilly has done the reverse- the grammar is easy and modern and the words are a literal translation of Hahnemann’s. As the authors say in the introduction:

So this new translation proceeded from a literal (in German) to a literal in English. The first paragraph reads: Des Arztes hochster und einzuger Beruf ist, kranke Menschen gesund zu machen, was man Heilen nennt.

The literal translation is:

The physicians highest and only calling is [the] sick [humans] sound to make, which one curing calls.

And the final translation becomes: The physician’s highest and only calling is to make the sick healthy, to cure, as it is called.

Furthermore, the text has been made easier to understand by the addition of headings and sub-heads (the paragraphs contain a summary at the beginning, i.e., Paragraph 8 is summarized as: “When all the symptoms of the disease have been lifted, the disease is also cured in the interior”); the sections are named (“Understanding Disease: Paragraph 72-81”); when a paragraph has several “ifs” and “therefores,” the key points are numbered to make it easier to understand; there is an 84-page Glossary; and a 39-page comprehensive index is included.

Acclaim for the Organon of the Medical Art
“The Organon of the Medical Art is a must read for anyone who gives or receives medical care.” – Roger Morrison, M.D.,

“The Organon is the cornerstone of homeopathy. In it, Hahnemann takes us on a philosophical journey through the age-old questions of health, disease and healing. Along the way he answers most questions any homeopath could have…This is the translation we have all been waiting for.” –Homeopathy Today

“The best translation yet, and the most comprehensive and organized information about the Organon.” – George Vithoulkas,

“This philosophical masterpiece by the founder of homeopathy brilliantly covers all aspects of natural health care.”- Miranda Castro

“O’Reilly has edited what is likely to become one of the most important books on homeopathy in this century…For the first time, Hahnemann’s profound teachings, which are the foundation of homeopathy, can be read and understood with relative ease.” – The American Homeopath

“The Organon of the Medical Art is one of the greatest books published in the history of medicine. It clearly describes how medicines can be used to stimulate natural healing. Hahnemann’s revolutionary paradigm of medicine has far-reaching implications for all types of medical practice.” –Richard Pitcairn

“Homeopathic medicine is the most radical and effective system of medicine the world has ever known. Although the Organon was written 200 years ago, it is only now, at the dawn of the 21st century, that its true relevance can be appreciated by all.”- Jeremy Sherr, 

Jeremy Sherr, director of the Dynamis School for Homeopathy, comments, “The Organon is not an easy book to grasp. Complex structure, long sentences and condensed concepts have obscured the totality. The O’Reilly edition outlines the overall picture with a clear synopsis, highlights the context with well-defined chapters, and focuses our thoughts with section headings and editorial commentary. A comprehensive index and glossary provide map and keys for treasure hunting in the text. This translation unveils many of Hahnemann’s subtle ideas by remaining as faithful as possible to his precise terminology. A bonus is added in the precise translation and adaptation of Hahnemann’s Introduction.”

Julian Winston, editor of Homeopathy Today and co-director of the Wellington College of Homeopathy, writes, “We read the Organon, trying to figure out what Hahnemann meant, and have been confused by reading his convoluted German translated into convoluted Victorian English. Help is now at hand! Wenda O’Reilly and Stephen Decker have brought the book to life again, and along the way have answered many of the questions in meaning we have been looking for, for these long years. In this year of the 200th anniversary of homeopathy, it is only fitting that Hahnemann’s philosophical masterpiece-the book that tells us why and how-should be given back to us. And, for the first time since 1849, the Introduction has been made accessible, clearly showing us how homeopathy is placed in its historical context. I’ve been teaching from the book for two months, and the clarity of the translation is a joy to both myself and my students.”

From Introduction of this book
Over the course of a sixty-year career, from 1783 when he stopped practicing the medicine of his day, until he died in 1843, Samuel Hahnemann developed the homeopathic mode of medical treatment, which was as different from the prevailing medical practice as day is to night.

During his long professional career, Hahnemann condensed his precepts on the philosophy and practice of medicine and the maintenance of health into successive editions of the Organon of the Medical Art.The first edition was published in 1810, and the sixth and final edition was completed in 1842, the year before he died. Hahnemann did not write the Organon only for medical practitioners, in fact, he prescribed the Organon to patients. The book itself is a remedy of the highest potency. Like other great works of art, it constantly reveals new marvels and mysteries, acting dynamically in relation to each reader, and acting differently with each reading.

Over the past few years, Steven Decker and I have worked closely together to bring Hahnemann’s work of genius to light for modern readers. His goal has been to provide the most accurate translation of Hahnemann’s language and thought. Mine has been to adapt the translation in such a way as to make it as comprehensible and as accessible as possible. Steven Decker’s new translation of the Organonconveys more of Hahnemann’s meaning than ever before, preserving the primary sense of his words as well as their imagery, color and texture. He has brought to the translation not only his keen understanding of the German language of Hahnemann’s time, but also of Hahnemann’s underlying philosophy, which was shared to some extent by a few other writers and philosophers of his time. This small group (including his contemporaries, Johann Goethe and Samuel Taylor Coleridge) comprise the beginning of what may be referred to as a dynamic school of thought.

Steven Decker’s translation (which will become available in computer format) includes two parts: an interlinear translation, in which an English word appears above each word of the original text; and a rendering of each of Hahnemann’s sentences into an English sentence which follows as much as possible Hahnemann’s original periodic sentence structure. I have further adapted each sentence by placing Hahnemann’s translated words into a modern English grammatical structure, often expanding his very condensed style of writing. In addition, I have delineated the structure of the Organon by dividing it into chapters and sections, and I have interpreted the text in side-headings and editorial footnotes (indicated with an asterisk). A glossary and index have also been added.

The Glossary includes definitions of medical terms used in the Organon, as well as translation notes on specific words. Readers can now understand terms as Hahnemann meant them instead of having to guess which of an English word’s several meanings was meant to apply. Also found in the Glossary are definitions of concepts that are fundamental to an understanding of Hahnemann’s mode of thought.

The Index allows readers to use the Organon as a reference work. It also organizes information on certain topics. For example, listed under ‘Homeopathic treatment’ readers will find every homeopathic use of a medicine or treatment discussed by Hahnemann in the Organon; under ‘Definition of’ readers will find Hahnemann’s own definitions of terms in the text.

Steven Decker and I worked together to solve one of the prime difficulties in translating and adapting a text of such complexity as the Organon: the problem of consistency versus context. At every turn, translators must choose between translating a particular word consistently throughout a text or translating it according to context. Previous translators have opted primarily for translation according to context. However, one way in which readers come to understand Hahnemann’s precise meaning is by seeing how he uses certain key words in various contexts. Steven and I approached this problem from different directions. Steven drew on a wide selection of English words to find the particular one that could span the various meanings of a given German word. We then worked together to define key terms in the Glossary so that readers can fully understand the nuances to be associated with particular terms. In other words, through the Glossary definitions, we are giving readers the opportunity to assign the full meaning of a given German word to the English word being used to translate it. One example is the use of ‘malady’ throughout the text. ‘Malady’ is being used to translate the German word Uebel, which has two meanings in German; it means both illness and evil. There is no word in English that immediately conveys both of these meanings to the reader. ‘Malady’ has been assigned the task of conveying both of these meanings and has been defined as such in the Glossary.

Another frequently encountered problem in moving from one language to another is that different languages carry different ways of looking at something, conceptually dividing things into smaller or larger units. Where ( language may use several words, another may use on one. For example, English has the terms ‘curing’ ant ‘healing,’ which originally had different meanings. ‘ referred to medical intervention while ‘healing’ referred to the human organism’s own efforts to recover from disease or injury. German, however, has only one term (Heil-) that covers both healing and cure, and which can refer to anything that is remedial or therapeutic. Any such differences between Hahnemann’s original terminology and the translation are presented in the Glossary. As a result, readers will be able to better know and understand what Hahnemann wrote and what he meant.

In some cases, linguistic differences between Hahnemann’s German and modern English describe profound differences between his philosophy or world-view and that of most modern English-speaking readers. The structure of Hahnemann’s thought and writing in the Organon is functional, not linear. If one reads Hahnemann from a linear perspective, one misses half the story. Steven Decker’s new translation, and his definition of key terms, bring these differences to light. Readers can come closer to seeing as Hahnemann saw and thinking as Hahnemann thought.

The book is restructured as a series of chapters and sections, and newly added side notes and footnotes, a contextual glossary, and an index vastly increase the book’s usefulness

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