I was at a small comic con recently where I found a vendor selling a vintage hypodermic syringe with finger grips and a glass barrel. I was reminded of the one in Rod Reiss’s possession. I was impressed enough to take this photo, but not to part with the $50 needed to own it.
The vendor and I chatted briefly. He told me these were often used on the battlefield, explaining that the design added speed and control. When I thought about Frieda injecting herself - terrified, alone, hands trembling - I could see why this might be necessary.
It’s a tiny detail but it stuck with me. I appreciate the thought Isayama puts into each panel. And I was left wondering if the syringe currently in Levi’s possession will be used on the battlefield like the real life examples it was thoughtfully patterned after.
The word syringe entered the English language in the early 15th century, from Late Latin syringa, which in turn came from the Ancient Greek word σύριγξ (syrinx), in the accusative forms of syringa (s), syringes (pl.) meaning a tube, hole, channel, shepherd’s pipe, related to syrizein meaning to pipe, whistle, hiss. Ancient Greek mythology holds that the minor god Pan, the personification of lust, was pursuing the wood nymph Syrinx, when she was stopped by the River Ladon which prevented her escape. She prayed to the river nymphs for assistance and was transformed into hollow reeds. Pan was left clutching the reeds, but the sound of the wind in the reeds made a hollow, melancholy sound which pleased Pan, and he cut them and made pipes out of them.
While the first suction syringes were used as early as the Romans and were mentioned by no less an authority than Celsus, the syringe as we know it today wasn’t invented until 1844 when Irish doctor Francis Rynd used a hollow needle to make the first subcutaneous injections. A decade later in 1853, inspired by a bee sting, Charles Pravaz and Alexander Wood developed a medical hypodermic syringe with a needle fine enough to pierce the skin. There is an apocryphal story that almost as soon as it was created, Wood’s wife became the first fatality of the modern syringe, self-administering a lethal dose of morphine. The syringe has been continually improved and remains one of the most important tools available to doctors.
The word evolved in English from its early use (15th-mid 18th centuries) to mean a tube or catheter for irrigating wounds to common use as a hypodermic needle around 1880.
Image of vintage syringes and medical bottles courtesy PhotoAtelier, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.
Pan pursuing Syrinx, bas relief by Clodion circa 1770 via the Musee du Louvre.