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March 1966

Hysteria: The History of a Disease.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1966;14(3):332-333. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1966.01730090108024

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The name hysteria is derived from the Greek word hystera which means uterus. In the earliest known treatise dealing with the complaint—Kahun papyrus dating from about 1900 BC—it is attributed to starvation or displacement of the uterus. This theory is repeated by Hippocrates, Plato, Celsus, Arataeus, and Soranus. Galen of Pergamon (AD 129-99) denied the ability of the uterus to move about but agreed that the common factor in most cases was some uterine affection. But he recognized hysteria also in men which he attributed to sexual abstinence, hence to retention of sperm. Hysterical passion, he said, is just a name but varied and innumerable are the forms which it encompasses.

This sexual theory held on through Augustine and throughout the Dark Ages until the 13th century, when it began to be replaced by the theory of demoniacal possession leading to treatment by exorcism and finally to torture

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