Saturday, 25 October 2008

Earlobe creases, Hadrian, my nephew and me

I have just discovered that I have creases in my ear lobes. Big deal, you might say, except that diagonal ear-lobe creases are, to quote one recent medical study on the subject, ‘significantly associated with coronary artery disease and coronary risk factors’. How significantly? Creases in both lobes have a ‘positive predictive value’ of 89.4%, according to the study. Or, to put it another way, they mean a 77% increased risk of heart attack (33% if only in one lobe), according to another report.

I wouldn’t have known any of this if it hadn’t been for the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum, where the combination of my historical/archaeological expertise and, more importantly, museum membership (I can take a guest in free) means I’ve been acting as an unofficial guide to every friend or family member with half an interest in things Roman. My last visit before the exhibition closes tomorrow was to take my 11-year-old nephew, recently back from a holiday in Rome and interested enough in Hadrian to know that he built the Pantheon and that his mausoleum is now the Castel Sant’Angelo.

For the umpteenth time, I did my by-now pat routine about Hadrian and his empire, Hadrian and his architecture, Hadrian and his statues, Hadrian and his wall. I curtailed my usual extensive discourse about Hadrian and his sex life, and opted against pointing out all the detail of the homoerotic sex scenes on the Warren Cup. (‘£1.8 million for a mug?’ ‘Bugger me!’ as the Private Eye cover had it when the silver goblet became the museum’s most expensive acquisition a decade ago.)

But I got enough interest from the nephew to keep me going with the Vindolanda tablets (two-millenia-old letters dealing with everything from requests for clean underwear to complaints about the ‘wretched little Brits’), the keys that the Jews took into the desert in the expectation of returning home during the revolt of 132-35, the hobnailed sandal imprint of a Roman soldier preserved on an ancient paving stone – and the diagonal creases on Hadrian’s earlobes.

These were first noticed on statues of Hadrian by Nicholas L Petrakis, a San Francisco MD, who published a paper in 1980 linking the creases to classical writings suggesting that Hadrian died from congestive heart failure resulting from hypertension and coronary atherosclerosis. I pointed out the creases to my nephew on some of the busts of Hadrian in the BM exhibition and told him about the link with heart disease. ‘Are they the same as you’ve got?’ he said.

I must have told this story about Hadrian and his earlobe creases a dozen times since the exhibition opened and no one, least of all me, had ever noticed any creases in my earlobes before now. Have they only just appeared? Old photos are inconclusive. Is my nephew imagining it? The mirror says no. Should I be worried? Medical opinion seems to be divided.

Both earlobe creases and heart disease become more common with age, so the studies may simply be reflecting this fact. (I wish.) And anyway, there’s just as strong a correlation, according to one of these studies, between heart disease and hairy ears, which I don’t have (or didn’t the last time I looked), so I’m taking the usual male approach to personal health issues, putting my fingers in both ears and pretending I never heard my nephew’s question in the first place.

5 comments:

Animals Asia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fiona said...

Diagonal or preauricular? What about backward facing palms?

Steve Platt said...

Depends which way I turn my arms ...

Fiona Osler said...

When you are walking do you palms face backwards? You realise I'm now going to fixated on your ear lobes when I see you ...

Steve Platt said...

Depends which way I turn my arms ...