History of Neurology: Neurology was there
June 1999

Seizures in the Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Author Affiliations

From the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, NY.




Copyright 1999 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.1999

Arch Neurol. 1999;56(6):740-743. doi:10.1001/archneur.56.6.740

Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most celebrated of American storytellers, lived through and wrote descriptions of episodic unconsciousness, confusion, and paranoia. These symptoms have been attributed to alcohol or drug abuse but also could represent complex partial seizures, prolonged postictal states, or postictal psychosis. Complex partial seizures were not well described in Poe's time, which could explain a misdiagnosis. Alternatively, he may have suffered from complex partial epilepsy that was complicated or caused by substance abuse. Even today, persons who have epilepsy are mistaken for substance abusers and occasionally are arrested during postictal confusional states. Poe was able to use creative genius and experiences from illness to create memorable tales and poignant poems.