Millennia before five regular convex polyhedra rolled into modern gaming, Plato (left) popularized these perfect solids as representing the four classical elements and Aether (or Ether) in his masterwork, Timaeus. Fascinated by connections between the sensed and unsensed world, Plato rationalized the physical properties of each solid as an idealized representation of a specific element in his theory of matter. The tetrahedron (red, upper left) rises to a stabbing point, like the unbearable heat of Fire; the spinnable octahedron (yellow, lower right), Air; and the flowing, nearly spherical icosahedron (purple, lower left), Water. All three elements are formed from the same elementary triangle. The squarely grounded cube, however, symbolized Earth (green, upper right) and is incompatible with Fire, Water, and Air. Encompassing all four classical elements in its vast godly space, Ether, represented by the dodecahedron (blue, center), approximated the quintessence of the universe. By the end of the Renaissance, Ether, the grandest Platonic solid, would lend its lofty name to a famously volatile gas that would revolutionize surgery centuries later. (Copyright © the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology. www.woodlibrarymuseum.org)

Millennia before five regular convex polyhedra rolled into modern gaming, Plato (left) popularized these perfect solids as representing the four classical elements and Aether (or Ether) in his masterwork, Timaeus. Fascinated by connections between the sensed and unsensed world, Plato rationalized the physical properties of each solid as an idealized representation of a specific element in his theory of matter. The tetrahedron (red, upper left) rises to a stabbing point, like the unbearable heat of Fire; the spinnable octahedron (yellow, lower right), Air; and the flowing, nearly spherical icosahedron (purple, lower left), Water. All three elements are formed from the same elementary triangle. The squarely grounded cube, however, symbolized Earth (green, upper right) and is incompatible with Fire, Water, and Air. Encompassing all four classical elements in its vast godly space, Ether, represented by the dodecahedron (blue, center), approximated the quintessence of the universe. By the end of the Renaissance, Ether, the grandest Platonic solid, would lend its lofty name to a famously volatile gas that would revolutionize surgery centuries later. (Copyright © the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology. www.woodlibrarymuseum.org)

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Melissa L. Coleman, M.D., Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, and George S. Bause, M.D., M.P.H., Wood Library-Museum Curator Emeritus