11 February 2008

Famous figures with epilepsy

The list includes Socrates, Michelangelo and Neil Young.

Today, doctors know that epilepsy is a neurological disorder and that treatments (including drugs and surgery) can help many people live normal lives.

But western history offers a decidedly different and often disturbing view of how those with epilepsy were feared and shunned through the ages.

The ancient Romans believed that touching or being breathed on by someone with epilepsy meant catching the "demon," and thus the disease. So those with the disorder were generally forced to live isolated and alone. During the Middle Ages, Europeans turned to saints and relics such as a blessed ring for a cure for epilepsy.

Misconceptions and discrimination persisted into the 20th century. In America in the 1920s, half of the states had laws mandating the sterilisation of epileptic patients.

Despite the stigma, many famous people have suffered from the disorder and excelled in spite of it. They include:

  • Bud Abbott, American comedian of Abbott and Costello fame
  • Richard Burton, Welsh actor
  • Truman Capote, American author
  • Lewis Carroll, English author and mathematician
  • Dante Alighieri, Italian author
  • Charles Dickens, English author
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Russian author
  • Danny Glover, American actor
  • Vincent van Gogh, Dutch painter
  • Margaux Hemingway, American actress, granddaughter of author Ernest Hemingway
  • Elton John, English pop singer
  • James Madison, fourth U.S. president
  • Guy de Maupassant, French author
  • Alfred Nobel, Swedish chemist, engineer and founder of the Nobel Prize awards
  • Niccolo Paganini, Italian violinist
  • Peter the Great, Russian czar
  • Edgar Allen Poe, American author
  • Neil Young, Canadian rock musician
  • Jonathan Swift, English author
  • Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, Russian composer
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson, English poet
  • Lord Byron, English poet

Some historical researchers believe there is evidence to suggest that the following famous figures may have also suffered from seizure disorders:

  • Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia
  • Aristotle, Greek philosopher/scientist
  • Napoleon Bonaparte, French general/emperor
  • Buddha, founder of Buddhism
  • Julius Caesar, Roman emperor
  • Hannibal, Carthaginian general
  • Michelangelo, Italian painter/sculptor
  • Sir Isaac Newton, British mathematician
  • Pythagoras, Greek mathematician
  • Saint Paul the Apostle, a father of the early Catholic Church
  • Socrates, Greek philosopher
  • Leonardo da Vinci, Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect and engineer

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