I was reading English translation of Michael PsellusDialogue on Operation of Demons [1]. In the past I have explored the subject pretty much on my own (see Indian Gift, Visitations and especially Down the Sea Sallow), and now I’ve turned to experts. So I am reading Psellus, Byzantine scholar of XI century, and then in a footnote I am running into: “autopsy, i.e. intuition”. And I go: “What? Autopsy means intuition?”
The modern meaning of the word appears so strikingly different from one used in the past. Then I thought, sure, Autopsia ought to mean intuition, as a faculty of a free soul. But why do we use it in such a different sense? I thought about it and I thought that I’ve got it right.

My guess went that Autopsia actually means “free soul”, something that happens upon our death, when we are no longer confined to our body, or to the space-time limits of this realm. So, I surmised, the original term, autopsy examination, must have a different meaning, an inquiry into a reason of autopsy, i.e. freeing of a soul. Which, by all means, is a better word than death. Of course, in the process of the usage, the second word (examination) eventually fell off.

I found this change of the meaning quite amazing, something that I would never think of, although I had written a piece with important part played by an autopsy (The Farmer). Yet, I felt like I ought to check the dictionary. And when I did, I found that Greek autopsia means seeing for oneself since auto means “self” and opsis means “sight” [2], nothing even close to a free soul or death. What a brainfart!

I still admit that autopsy is a cool word for intuition. As for the death, maybe one day it will evolve into eleuteropsychosis, from Greek excubepoco, eleuterod, which means to liberate, but for now it will stay where it is.

[1] Byzantine Magic: Michael Psellus on the Operation of Demons, translatedby Marcus Collisson, Golden Hoard Press, 2010, p.81.

[2] The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1991, pp.143-144.

Bela Abel



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