Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Theory Of Tourette Syndrome

This post is entirely speculative - any properly qualified medic who wishes to shoot it down is free to do so.
However, I may be right - and I think it's important enough to post about.
The searh for historic Tourettists has three motivations - firstly, it's interesting; secondly, it may provide some insight into the condition; and thirdly, it may provide some insight into the motives of those who made the past.
Although Tourettes Syndrome is a spectrum disorder, my belief is that there are at least two identifiable sub-types of Tourettes within it. These are best described as 'Claudian Tourettes' and 'Petrine Tourettes'.
Claudian Tourettes, after Claudius I, exhibits the following pathology; tics of the whole head, pallilalia and weakness of the legs. Whether or not Claudius's stammer was palli-palli-palli-pallilalia-pallilalia-pallilalia, we will never know; but it is perfectly possible that the bursts of temper to which he was prone may have been classic 'rage attacks', so common in Tourettes; and a particular defining feature of Claudian Tourettes is suggestibility. He was partiuculalrly suggestible to the women of the court - Messalina had him round her wee finger.
What makes me believe that Claudius was a Tourettist and not, in the words of Robin Lane Fox, 'a cruel and susceptible spastic', was his admission that he could exaggerate his symptoms and also that they improved once he became Emperor. Unless I am greatly mistaken, a sufferer of cerebral palsy would be unable to exercise the limited control over their body of the type that Claudius seemed to have. Similarly, it makes perfect sense for Claudius's symptoms to improve once he got the top job - the incredible pressure of having to act the fool in order to survive the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula had been removed. Nobody dared call him a dope or a half-wit any more. For the first time in 50 years, he could breathe a bit more easily.
Petrine Tourettes, named after Peter the Great, is marked by violent facial tics and, it would seem, a disregard for those around the sufferer that borders on the sociopathic. Those who laud Peter must remember that this was a man who went partying immediately after his son was killed by his security goons. This man ordered every village in Russia to send a serf to help build St. Petersburg, and then taxed them to pay for their food. This was a person who had absolutely no concept of anyone, or anything, beyond himself. His son's only 'crime', such as it was, was to be suspected of being attached more to the old Orthodox Church than the one Peter set out to build.
There are a number of fascinating similarities between the lives of Peter the Great and Louis XIV. The paternal providence of neither ever seemed to be quite secure; Peter's physical dis-similarity to his relations was a source of constant gossip, while the balance of historical probabilities now suggests that Louis was fathered by Mazarin - the occasion of his alleged conception was the only time his 'parents' were believed to have slept with each other in 10 years, and Louis XIII was homosexual. Both experienced political violence while young, Peter in the 1682 rebellion of the streltsy, Louis in the Fronde. Both hated their capitals, and set out to build fantasiae, Peter on the Neva, Louis at Versailles, at horrible costs to their nations and peoples; and both, in Louis's words, 'made war too lightly'. While visiting France on his second tour of Europe, Peter was reported to have drunkenly burst into the bedchamber of Mme. de Maintenon, something he would never have dared to do while Louis was alive.
Yet it is the rule of another Frenchman, Robespierre, that bears the greater similarity to that of Peter; even down to the facial tics and the bloodlust. Neither could suffer living in a country that did not match their overly demanding criteria; and neither had the slightest qualm about shedding oceans of blood to get what they wanted.
As I say, this is speculative; if anyone has any better suggestions, let me know.

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