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History of Neurology
January 2004

Gottfried Benn, a German Poet-Physician, on Epilepsy in 1910-1911

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2004 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2004

Arch Neurol. 2004;61(1):140-144. doi:10.1001/archneur.61.1.140

In the second half of the 19th century, new scientific concepts of the etiology and nature of epilepsy emerged that challenged metaphysical views on epilepsy held since antiquity.1 In 1910, Gottfried Benn (1886-1956), who would become a well-known German poet, was a medical student at the famous Charité Hospital of Friedrich Wilhelm University (Berlin, Germany). He offered a contemporary perspective on the dramatic evolution of epilepsy theory in his brief report, "A Contribution to the History of Psychiatry."2 A year later, Benn's study on "The Etiology of Pubertal Epilepsy"3 received the gold medal from the medical faculty of the university. Both publications are briefly reviewed here. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief glimpse of European ideas on epilepsy at the beginning of the 20th century as seen through the eyes of Gottfried Benn, a German poet-physician who became particularly interested in pubertal epilepsy. It was during this period that epilepsy began to be seen as a neurologic rather than a psychiatric disorder.