EXHIBIT: Taming the Brain's Storms

Science  23 Jul 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5683, pp. 457
DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5683.457a

Today doctors know that epileptic seizures result from erratic firing by brain neurons, and they can recommend treatments such as drugs or surgery. But during the Renaissance, people blamed stones inside the skull for the convulsions, unusual sensations, and other symptoms of the illness. And quacks who claimed to be able to remove the stones abounded.

Learn more about the disease's history and cultural impact at the Epilepsy Museum, created by Hansjörg Schneble, a doctor in Offenburg, Germany. One room displays erroneous and valid statements about epilepsy from authorities such as the Roman physician Galen. He was the first to describe the aura, the hallucinations and “out-of-body” sensations that often precede an attack. But he mistakenly believed that seizures could originate in the extremities as well as in the brain. Another room is stocked with evidence that various historic figures suffered from epilepsy—including Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

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