Axel Munthe TodayAxel Munthe came to Capri for the first time at the age of 19 in 1876. He walked up to Capodimonte, looked about him and started to dream. He embraced a new culture, realised his grandiose dreams as and when he could, treaded his own path and held views that were exceptional for his time. This makes him exciting and inspirational even today.
It is often pointed out that Munthe’s medical training was too short. He says so himself in his book. But despite this he was a very successful doctor, intuitive, sensitive and sympathetic. Munthe realised that many of the rich young women who sought his help were depressed and sexually frustrated.
He prescribed long walks and an outdoor life. A pet is by far the best cure for melancholy and loneliness. He made them give money to the poor. Doing good to others is an amazing medicine and benefits both the giver and the recipient.
Munthe was also a proponent of a healthy and simple diet. He strongly advised against anyone over 50 eating meat. Fish, pasta, fruit and vegetables were his recipe for good health.
Munthe was also open to LGBTQ questions. In The Story of San Michele he condemned the contemporary view that homosexuality could be cured. When the writer Oscar Wilde was let out of jail after two years of penal servitude for ”unnatural fornication” and was treated like a pariah by the whole of the European cultural establishment, Munthe received him and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas at Villa San Michele.
His experiences as a physician made him reflect on euthanasia and advocate soft methods to relieve the dying of pain and anxiety. He wrote at length about this in The Story of San Michele, where he said that it ought to be his duty to help people to die with dignity if he couldn’t help them to live.
He was, however, just as preoccupied with life as he was with death. He treated and cured countless poor and needy for nothing, and among them the indigent Italian immigrants in Paris. He was ahead of his time promoting animal rights, regardless of whether it concerned big game locked up in zoos, worn out donkeys, stray dogs or the quail and turtle doves which were ruthlessly hunted on Capri. Munthe even managed to persuade the Italian government to forbid the killing of birds on the island.
In the light of his courageous stance, the image fades away of the clumsy youth in the bowler hat and pince-nez who seems to belong to a completely different era from ours. Axel Munthe was in many respects a pioneer who is still worthy of our attention.
”He was ahead of his time promoting animal rights, regardless of whether it concerned big game locked up in zoos, worn out donkeys, stray dogs or the quail and turtle doves which were ruthlessly hunted on Capri”