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PSYCHOGENIC DISORDERS AND THE CIVILIZATION OF THE MIDDLE AGES
ALFRED GALLINEK
Am J Psychiatry 1942;99:42-54.
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The department of neurology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Neurological Institute of New York.

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Abstract

Authors have gone to great lengths to protect the saints from the accusation of hysteria. The complete identification of modern with medieval hysteria, the stigma attached to modern hysteria and other psychogenic disturbances, caused this vigorous defense. The study of medieval personality, environment and hysteria reveals this hysteria and related psychogenic disturbances as a means to achieve ecstatic maturity and great visionary religious experiences. At the same time hysteria was not only a means to an end, a tool, but also the result of the enormous tension, polarity and repression. If we disregard its late off-shoot of witch hunt, dance epidemics and inquisition, this hysteria was productive and of cultural significance in contrast to modern hysteria. It was different and it affected other personalities, ties, personalities who nowadays hardly would have a tendency toward hysteria and psychogenic disturbances. It affected those personalities who needed a stimulus and a tool in order to embody and express completely the essence of their era. We have given numerous examples of hysteria in great medieval personalities. They were great ones, but not the very great ones, not those of the very first order. The men of the second order needed the stimulus and tool of the hysterical mechanism. Not so the genius. Thus Beda Venerabilis, Hrabanus Maurus, Scotus Eriguena, Gerbert, Abelard, Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus have few, or unimportant traces of hysteria. Others, those of second quality, needed the hysterical experience. The profoundness of mystical and ecstatic experience is not minimized or explained if we say that hysterical mechanisms were set in motion to make the experience possible. Between the poles of an overpowering tension stood medieval man. This tension and his desire to reach the eternal and transcendental created his hysteria which, at the same time, helped him to fulfill his yearning. Thus his suffering bore fruit: Passiflora.

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