Epilepsy was the likely cause of
hallucinations experienced by 19th century Polish composer Frederic Chopin,
according to a new study.
Researchers reached the conclusion
that Chopin had temporal lobe epilepsy after analyzing the musician’s own
descriptions of his hallucinations — including his description of a
“cohort of phantoms” — as well as accounts of his life written by
pupils and friends such as George Sand.
In one case, Chopin suddenly
stopped a concert and left the stage after seeing creatures emerge from the
Chopin’s well-documented bouts of
melancholy have been attributed to bipolar disorder or clinical depression, but
the many hallucinatory episodes tend to have been overlooked, said Dr. Manuel
Vazquez Caruncho, of Xeral-Calde Hospital Complex in Lugo, Spain, and
The study authors considered a
number of possible causes of the hallucinations and eventually determined it
was most likely temporal lobe epilepsy. The condition can produce complex
visual hallucinations that are usually brief and fragmentary, just as described
There was limited understanding of
epilepsy when Chopin was alive and the condition could easily have been
overlooked by his doctors, the researchers noted.
Chopin was plagued by poor health
throughout his life and died in 1849 at the age of 39 as a result of chronic
lung disease, possibly cystic fibrosis.
The study is published in the
online edition of the journal Medical Humanities.