Did Dante’s narcolepsy inspire The Divine Comedy?

Fresh evidence supporting the theory that Dante Alighieri’s musings were inspired by narcolepsy is to be published in the medical journal Lancet Neurology later this month.

Did Dante's narcolepsy inspire The Divine Comedy?

Scientists needed to look no further than the first canto of the Inferno – the first part of Dante’s 14th century epic poem depicting his journey through the underworld, purgatory and heaven – to find further proof that the poet suffered from sleeping sickness.

In the poem’s famous opening passage the poet encounters a ferocious she-wolf while trying to climb a hill.

“Behold the beast on whose account I turned: from her protect me, O thou famous Sage,” writes Dante, “for she makes both my veins and pulses tremble”.

For one of the paper’s authors, Dr. Francesco Galassi, a man who combs historical texts to try to find evidence of medical disorders throughout history, the words provide further evidence of Dante’s narcolepsy.

“In this famous section Dante gives a very accurate description of a flight or fight response, centuries before the phenomenon had been explained scientifically.” Galassi told The Local. “It suggests that 700 years ago people had a good knowledge of the body’s physiological responses to fear.

But it also supports the theory that the poet had narcolepsy, put forward by neurologist Giuseppe Plazzi of the University of Bologna’s Sleep Laboratory in 2013.

Plazzi’s theory goes that, if read literally and not symbolically, The Divine Comedy describes many aspects of narcolepsy.

Throughout the work the poet lists the condition’s trademark symptoms: he is overwhelmed by excessive tiredness and sleepiness, experiences sudden falls, and takes frequent naps.

“Dante’s description in canto one perfectly describes an anxiety attack, which is a very common symptom of narcolepsy,” Galassi explained. “The attack is brought on by a hallucination which is another common feature of the disease.”

-more at The Local

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