Epilepsy was known throughout Antiquity, and was given a lot of different names. However, it was only in the twentieth century that it was understood that there is not just one epilepsy, but several, even many epilepsies, with different causes, all having the common characteristic of a particular excitation of nervous centres in the brain.
An epileptic, in the medical sense of the word, is not only the person who has all of the symptoms of the big epileptic attack. Epilepsy has greatly varying aspects. Apart from the habitually recognized forms, it can have multiple transformations, including the delirious form, the hallucinatory form, the larvate form, as well as the sensory form.
Do we find the same sort of manifestations in our imperial subject? We have shown an hallucination, which could be, at a pinch, related to epilepsy. This hallucination occurred at night, as did the attack which frightened Mlle George so much: this nocturnal character of the attacks has been noted many times.
Hereditary anamnestics are not rare either, and Lombroso was careful not to draw conclusions in his thesis. “It is known,” he says. “That epileptics frequently descend from alcoholic parents. Antommarchi reports that the father of Napoleon I had intemperate habits.”
The knowledgeable Turino Professor continues: “He [Napoleon’s father] died young from a cancerous illness. He was an intellectually well-endowed man, but had a muddled and scheming tendancy, and seems to have been completely lacking in morality. Which is why he abandoned Paoli, to whom he had been a friend and enthusiastic partisan, to adopt the French party, when Paoli went into exile.
“The sisters [of Napoleon] had no pudeur, principally Pauline who dared to pose naked for the sculptor Canova. She was an hysteric.
“Lucien was intelligent, but egoistic.
“Napoleon’s mother was a woman of resolute character, serious, but very ambitious.
“As for physical stigmates, we are reminded that Napoleon was of small stature (1.59 metres) and that the width of his outstretched arms was disproportional to his height (1.67 metres). His cranial circumference was 0.56 metres and, consequently, did not surpass average dimensions.
“The form of the cranium was of the mesocephalic variety, with narrow temples. There was no lack of degenerative anomalies, which are found in epileptics and criminals, such as: the disproportional thickness of the lower jaw, with lemurian prognathis; the unusual size of the cheek bone and the orbital cavities; the lack of development of beard growth on the chin.
“There was disproportion between the two halves, upper and lower, of the body, because the legs were manifestly too small for the trunk. The shoulders were hunched, the back a bit rounded.
“He suffered from a completely abnormal hyperexcitability of his sensitivity. Which is why he had fires made in his bedroom up until the month of June.
“He said that he could hear distinctly sounds that no-one else could hear. He often complained of a unilateral headache, and had to a supreme degree that sensitivity which I have called meteoric and which informed him of the slightest changes which were going to happen in the state of the atmosphere. He suffered from it a lot, particularly on very dry days.
“He had muscular tics which are found very frequently in epileptics, particularly when he was excited. For example, if he was working on something new, he frequently raised his right arm and shoulder. His lips also had convulsive movements.”
The Emperor, during his long hours of work and meditation, had, it is true, a particular tic, which he conserved throughout his whole life: it consisted in raising frequently and rapidly his right shoulder which, for people who didn’t know this habit of his, was interpreted sometimes as a gesture of discontent and blame. They would search anxiously as to how they had displeased him. He, himself, didn’t even think about it, and repeated the same movement several times, without noticing it.
This involuntary movement of the right shoulder is said to have also been a characteristic of Turenne and the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. But Napoleon had as well, a mouth movement from left to right.
Another tic which Lombroso doesn’t mention, and which announced a violent anger in the Emperor, was the twitching of his left calf. Tolstoi gave a magnificent description of it:
” … After having walked a few steps in silence, he stopped in front of Balachow; his face seemed petrified, his expression had hardened so much, and his left leg trembled convulsively. ‘The vibration of my left calf is very significant with me’, he said later.”
At Saint Helena, he often felt this premonitory trouble, at the approach of his torturer. When he sensed Hudson Lowe in the vicinity, he received him with “his hurricane face”, his head bent, one ear forward. They would consider each other for a moment like two rams who are about to lock horns, and when Napoleon’s emotion was too strong, he felt the vibration in his left calf, a symptom which only occurred at rare intervals.
Fourth part tomorrow.