The Changing Faces of Love Torments: Continuity and Rupture in the Medical Diagnosis of Lovesickness in the Modern West

In: Knowledge and Pain

The connection between love and states of illness or madness has existed since antiquity and is demonstrated in both medical and non-medical literature. While early modern descriptions of the clinical picture of lovesickness remained faithful to their classic and medieval predecessors, the volume of writing about lovesickness increased dramatically, with physicians devoting hundreds of pages to the specific diagnosis and prognosis, but most of all to the social aetiology and therapy of ‘love melancholy.’ This medical discussion reached a high point during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and then gradually faded out. Though there are clear references to this pathological condition in later medical texts, the writing changed dramatically: first declining in scope and coherence and then, in the nineteenth century, being replaced by the diagnosis ‘erotomania.’ The chapter views the continuity of the medical diagnosis on the one hand and its ruptures on the other, focusing on the changes in the European medical world and on the changes in the notion of romantic love in European society.


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