Dostoevsky's epilepsy: A contemporary “paleodiagnosis”

Abstract

Attempts to diagnose diseases retrospectively in some of our most remarkable ancestors proliferate among clinicians. The pathography of Dostoevsky constitutes a paradigm in this sense, with several approaches to the subject having taken place in recent times. Despite free access to the Russian Archives following Perestroika and a continuous scientific update on epilepsy, positive pathological thinking in the absence of historical perspective has often led to anachronism. In 1971 Temkin stated: ‘‘The genesis and nature of Dostoievski’s own epilepsy is still a matter for debate.’’ Subsequent studies published since have revived a passionate dispute held between Stefan Zweig and Sigmund Freud at the beginning of the 20 century; the former, admiring the way his Russian homonymous made an intelligent use of epilepsy in favour of his art; the latter, denying the existence of genuine epilepsy inspired by his revolutionary psychoanalytic theories through which he arrived to the conclusion that the writer suffered with ‘‘hysteroepilepsy’’. According to his contemporaries he considered that the long term damage to the brain epilepsy had presumably inflicted in the case of Dostoevsky would be incompatible with such outstanding intellectual achievements. On the other hand, he conceded that a mind as bright as Helmhöltz’s had been affected by epilepsy. In any case, the more influential opinion of Freud prevailed over the more romantic and still more lucid view of his fellow-countryman. Consequently, in his encyclopaedic biography of Dostoevsky, Joseph Frankmakes the following statement apropos of Freudian sequelae on the subject: ‘‘Lack of documentary evidence is no obstacle to zealous Freudians. Dominique Arban, in a supposedly scholarly study of Dostoevs-

DOI: 10.1016/j.seizure.2006.11.003

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Cite this paper

@article{Iniesta2007DostoevskysEA, title={Dostoevsky's epilepsy: A contemporary “paleodiagnosis”}, author={Iv{\'a}n Iniesta}, journal={Seizure}, year={2007}, volume={16}, pages={283-285} }