It is common knowledge that proteus bacteria are associated with urinary tract infections and urinary stones. Far more interesting however, is the derivation of the word proteus. This study examines the origin of the word proteus, its mythological, historical and literary connections and evolution to present-day usage.
Materials and Methods:
A detailed search for primary and secondary sources was undertaken using the library and internet.
Greek mythology describes Proteus as an early sea-god, noted for being versatile and capable of assuming many different forms. In the 8th century BC, the ancient Greek poet, Homer, famous for his epic poems the Iliad and Odyssey, describes Proteus as a prophetic old sea-god, and herdsman of the seals of Poseidon, God of the Sea. Shakespeare re-introduced Proteus into English literature, in the 15th century AD, in the comedy The Two Gentleman of Verona, as one of his main characters who is inconstant with his affections. The ‘elephant man’ was afflicted by a severely disfiguring disease, described as ‘Proteus syndrome’. It is particularly difficult to distinguish from neurofibromatosis, due to its various forms in different individuals. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘protean’ as to mean changeable, variable, and existing in multiple forms. Proteus bacteria directly derive their name from the Sea God, due to their rapid swarming growth and motility on agar plates. They demonstrate versatility by secreting enzymes, which allow them to evade the host's defense systems.
Thus proteus, true to its name, has had a myriad of connotations over the centuries.