Saturday, March 12, 2016

Nebuchadnezzar the Werewolf by Christopher Wordsworth 1871


Nebuchadnezzar the Werewolf by Christopher Wordsworth 1871

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Nebuchadnezzar's Disease. — let a beast's heart be given unto him] The celebrated physician, Dr. Mead (in his work "Medica Sacra," on the Diseases mentioned in Scripture, p. 59) observes that the ancients called persons affected with this species of madness lycanthropoi or cynanthropoi, because they went abroad imitating wolves or dogs, opening the sepulchres of the dead. See Aetius, Lib. Med. vi. Paul AEgineta, iii. 16. In like manner, the daughters of Proetus are related to have been affected, who, as Virgil says (Eclog. vi. 48), "implerunt falsis mugitibus agros." Servius there observes, that Juno possessed their minds with such a species of madness, that, fancying themselves cows, they ran into the fields, bellowed, and fled from the plough. These, according to Ovid (Met. xv. 326), the physician Melampus

"per carmen et herbas
Eripuit furiis."

Schenkins (Observ. Med. de Lycanthropia) records a remarkable instance of it in a husbandman of Padua, who, imagining himself a wolf, attacked and killed several persons in the fields; and when he was taken, persevered in declaring himself a wolf. On this form of insanity, called Lycanthropy,—in which men suppose themselves to be wolves or other wild beasts, and act accordingly,—the reader may refer to the interesting details collected by Hengstenberg, 91, 92; Trusen, Krankheiten, 1853; and especially Dr. Pusey, p. 425, who thus writes:—

"It is now conceded that the madness of Nebuchadnezzar agrees with the description of a rare sort of disease, called Lycanthropy, of which our earliest notice is in a Greek medical writer of the 4th century after our Lord, in which the sufferer retains his consciousness in other respects, but imagines himself to be changed into some animal, and acts, up to a certain point, in conformity with that persuasion.


"Marcellus (4th cent.) mentions two sorts, 'They who are seized by the kynanthropic or lycanthropic disease, in the month of February go forth by night, imitating in all things wolves or dogs, and until day especially live near tombs.' The disease is one from which there have been recoveries. Mercurialis says, 'The disease is horrible, yet not destructive to life, even if it last for months; nay, I have read that it has been thoroughly cured after years.'

"The remarkable expressions, his heart was made like the beast's, let a beast's heart be given to him, fit most naturally with this form of disease. The rest of the description would be in conformity with this, that Nebuchadnezzar, when affected with this disease, ate grass as an ox, and allowed his hair and nails to grow unshorn and unpared, as if he was the animal. The growth of the nails described is exactly that which modern physiologists have stated to be their growth when so neglected. His nails, Daniel says, were like birds' claws. 'The nails,' says Kolliker, 'so long as they are cut, grow unremittingly; when this is omitted, their growth is confined. In this case, and in the people of Eastern Asia, the nails become 1 1/2 or 2 inches long (among the Chinese, according to Hamilton, 2 inches), and curve round the fingers and ends of the toes.' The principles which regulate the excessive growth of hair, are, Dr. Rolleston tells me, less ascertained. Both being, I believe, called excremental, the excessive growth of both would probably be simultaneous. But both may have been the result of personal neglect, which is so strangely humiliating a part of a most distressing form of mental disease, and which I have seen as the result of disappointed pride.


"The expression however, Let a beast's heart be given unto him, may only signify the privation of the characteristic of man, reason, as the king wrote of himself, my reason returned unto me. And there is a distinct form of insanity, in which the eating of grass is one of the characteristic features. In many classes of the insane, the eminent Commissioner of the Board of Lunacy for Scotland, Dr. Browne, informs me, the eating garbage, excrement, even grass, is a symptom of general debasement and of perverted appetites.

"Dr. Browne tells me, as the result of the experience of above 30 years, - My opinion is, that of all mental powers or conditions, the idea of personal identity is but rarely enfeebled, and that it is never extinguished. The Ego and Non-Ego may be confused. The Ego however continues to preserve the personality. All the Angels, Devils, Dukes, Lords, Kings, "gods many," that I have had under my care, remained what they were before they became Angels, Dukes, &e., in a sense, and even nominally. I have seen a man, declaring himself the Saviour, or St. Paul, sign himself James Thomson, and attend worship as regularly as if the notion of divinity had never entered into his head.

"'I think it probable,—because consistent with experience in similar forms of mental affection,—that Nebuchadnezzar retained a perfect consciousness that he was Nebuchadnezzar, during the whole course of his degradation, and while he ate "grass as oxen," and that he may have prayed fervently that the cup might pass from him.

"'A very large proportion of the insane pray, and to the living God, and in the words supplied at their mother's knee or by Mother Church, and this whatever may be the form or extent of the alienation under which they laboured, and whatever the transformation, in the light of their own delusions, they may have undergone. There is no doubt that the sincerity and the devotional feeling is as strong in these worshippers as in the sane. I do not say that all madmen pray, or can pray; but, as you suppose, monomaniacs, and melancholies, chronic maniacs, and ements (in vast numbers), the hallucinated, &c. Those of the Edinburgh School of Philosophy, and educated medical men, would not, I conceive, take any exception to the view which I have given, because the very conception of partial insanity involves the possibility of the sentiment of devotion and the recognition of a Supreme Being remaining intact, while other powers are diseased.'"—Dr. Pusey.

I have been favoured with the following communication on this subject by an eminent person who enjoys the highest reputation for his skill in the treatment of lunaties—E. Palmer, Esq., M.D., of the Lincolnshire County Asylum, at Bracebridge, near Lincoln:—

"The enclosed description of the epidemic outbreak of Lycanthropy in France in the l6th century is taken from Esquirol, who is a very trustworthy writer. M. Calmeil, whose book "De la Folie, &c.," Paris, 1845, I send, your lordship will find gives full and authentic particulars of several cases occurring in the epidemic in the Jura, at Do1e and other places; and in Friedreich (a German treatise on the Literary History of Pathology, Wurzburg, 1830), p. 23, numerous references to the older literature of the subject in the works on Lycanthropy by Mei (Viteb. 1650), Muller (Lips. 1673), Nifanius (Giess. 1664), De Nyand, Sallzmann, Wolfeshusius, and Wolfius, 1666.

"It very commonly occurs that patients on their recovery from insanity have a full recollection of their sayings and doings, and of all that happened to them during their attack, which, of course, implies that during the attack they were conscious of their condition. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, it was not until 'the end of the days'—or, as may be supposed, at the first dawn of intelligence, when partially lycanthropical and partially self-conscious, and in a state somewhat resembling that of a person awakening from a dream—that he lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being probably not yet rational enough to offer up a prayer in words, but still so far conscious as to be able dimly to perceive his identity. But when his understanding returned to him, there came back not only a recollection of his sin and the decree of the Most High, but also a vivid reminiscence of all the circumstances of his abasement amongst the beasts of the field; and he at once acknowledged the power and dominion of God."

"The amazing malady which possessed Nebuchadnezzar, known scientifically as Lycanthropy, is presented in a simple and natural way. The disease is well known in the sad annals of the human mind and attested by scientific examination. With it is associated the primitive werewolf superstition, which may have its rationalistic support in the actual frenzies of the human kind. Even if the essence of the story were true, that Nebuchadnezzar was so afflicted, after the manner of ’geniuses’ and of many royal persons, as George III of England and Otho of Bavaria, corroboration of it can hardly ever be expected from archaeology, for royal families do not leave memorials of such frailties. The alleged malady is not an impossibility." ~Montgomery 1927

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