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Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor DostoevskyThe Russian Writer Dostoevsky, whose writings are among the worlds greatest literature, had a rare form of temporal lobe epilepsy termed "Ecstatic Epilepsy".    Dostoevsky kept records of 102 epileptic seizures during his last two decades, which mainly occurred at night and were tonic-clonic or grand-mal.  Seizures which occurred  in the daytime were often preceded by an ecstatic aura, which has led neurologists to theorise that he had temporal  lobe epilepsy  with secondary grand-mal epilepsy. 

Dostoevsky used his experiences to create  characters  with epilepsy in four of his twelve novels

Kirillov in The Possessed

Smirdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov

Nellie in the Insulted and Injured

Prince Myshkin in The Idiot

The Idiot is an example of how art can contribute to scientific observation. Dostoevsky lets us see into the mind and emotion of the person with epilepsy through his character Prince Myshkin.  Here  Prince Myshkin describes the onset of a seizure with an ecstatic aura.

'He was thinking, incidentally, that there was a moment or two in his epileptic condition almost before the fit itself (if it occurred in waking hours) when suddenly amid the sadness, spiritual darkness and depression, his brain seemed to catch fire at brief moments....His sensation of being alive and his awareness increased tenfold at those moments which flashed by like lightning.  His mind and heart were flooded by a dazzling light.  All his agitation, doubts and worries, seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of understanding...but these moments, these glimmerings were still but a premonition of that final second (never more than a second) with which the seizure itself began.  That second was, of course, unbearable.'

Moscow spires

This description is very similar to Dostoevsky 's  observation of his own epilepsy

" For several instants I experience a happiness that is impossible in an ordinary state, and of which other people have no conception.  I feel full harmony in myself and in the whole world, and the feeling is so strong and sweet that for a few seconds of such bliss one could give up ten years of life, perhaps all of life.

I felt that heaven descended to earth and swallowed me.  I really attained god and was imbued with him.  All of you healthy people don't even suspect  what happiness is , that happiness that we epileptics experience for a second before an attack."

Fyodor Dostoevsky as a childDostoevsky was affected by physical and mental disturbances following a seizure (This is also called the 'post-ictal 'state) It took him up to one week to recover fully.  His chief complaint was that his 'head did not clear up' for several days and symptoms included, "heaviness and even pain in the head, disorders of the nerves, nervous laugh and mystical depression" 


What is post - ictal