born August 15, 1769 in Ajacco/Corsica, died May 5, 1821 on St. Helena
"Il gémissait et il bavait, il avait des espèces de convulsions qui cessèrent au bout d'un quart d'heure..." (He sighed and frothed at the mouth, he had the type of convulsions which stopped after a quarter of an hour...').
This report given by Talleyrand in the year 1805 is not the only contemporary evidence of Napoleon having epileptic seizures. The following anecdote is taken from one of Napoleon's biographies which was published as early as 1838: 'From his youth, he had epileptic fits. When he was at school in Paris, he had to eat on his knees as a punishment for insubordination, but he had such a huge seizure that they had to let him off.' And in the memoirs of the imperial chamberlain Constant, in the entry dated September 10, 1804, we can read that during the previous night the emperor had 'had a severe nervous shock or epileptic seizure, which he is afflicted with.'
The question whether Napoleon had epilepsy or not has always been a matter of controversy, however. The scholars who do not doubt that the French emperor suffered from the disease list the following etiological factors: the fact that his father was an alcoholic, that Napoleon suffered from pronounced bradycardia (with secondary disturbed blood supply to the brain), and from slight hydrocephalus. The opponents of the 'epilepsy-theory' point out that none of the many doctors who attended the emperor ever mentioned any suspicion that he might have epilepsy. However, this could be explained by the fact that they had to be very careful how they worded the diagnoses pertaining to their imperial patient.
If Napoleon really did suffer from epilepsy - and indeed, there are more indices which suggest he did than suggest that he did not - his seizures appear to have been few and did not noticeably impede his activities.
--- close this window ---