Hindu gods, Aztec rites, Blondie hits … why the heart is our eternal symbol squib

The pig heart transplant is a medical marvel but centuries of art and history give us pause to reflect on what truly makes us human

A man in Maryland has been given a pig’s heart as a transplant (genetically modified, phew), and the old chestnut rolls out again: won’t that maybe somehow make him … piggy? The rationalists laugh, and the surgeons reassure: it’s just a muscle! A pump!

Physically, they may be right (the heart is complex and still not fully understood), but culturally they couldn’t be more wrong. Over millennia and across the world, the heart has also been a house, a book, a rose, a pine cone, a pomegranate, a bunch of grapes, a pincushion, a wheel, a fountain, a picnic spot, a cup, a harp, a map. It flies, sinks, grows, breaks, rejoices, flutters, burns. It’s wounded with blades, sacrificed, given, stolen, swept, polished, eaten. Frida Kahlo painted it, as a pile of paint.

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