Sezione Italiana Giovani Neurologi

Vai ai contenuti

Menu principale:

Storia e curiosità - Aprile 2013

Storia e curiosità > Archivio

La Malattia di Parkinson tra il 600 e l'800 (seconda parte)


The Italian artist, engineer and scientist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) also studied anatomy, physiology and medicine. Leonardo da Vinci kept secret notebooks in which he wrote and sketched his ideas and observations. He saw people whose symptoms coincided with the tremors seen in Parkinson's Disease. Leonardo wrote in his notebooks that "you will see.....those who.....move their trembling parts, such as their heads or hands without permission of the soul; (the) soul with all its forces cannot prevent these parts from trembling."

There are examples of references to the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease in the plays of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). There is a reference to shaking palsy in the second part of Henry VI, during an exchange between Dick and Say. Say explains to Dick that it is shaking palsy rather than fear that was causing his shaking. Dick asks Say : "Why dost thou quiver, man ?" Say responds : "The palsy, and not fear, provokes me."

John Gerard (1545-1611/12) was an English botanist famous for his herbal garden. He studied medicine and travelled widely as a ship's surgeon. In 1597, he published a list of plants cultivated in his garden at Holborn. It was basically a translation of a 1583 Latin herbal illustrated. In Gerard's Herbal he writes of Sage that it "strengthneth the sinewes, restoreth health to those that have the palsie upon a moist cause, takes away shaking or trembling of the members". He also mentioned cabbage, pellitory and mugwort for treating trembling of the sinews.

Seventeenth century

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) was an English botanist, herbalist, physician and astrologer. He published books, The English Physitian (1652) and the Complete Herbal (1653). The Complete Herbal contains both pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge. Among the recommendations in Complete Herbal, he suggests sage for "sinews, troubled with palsy and cramp". For centuries prior to this, Sage had also been recommended for tremor in the hands. Amongst other plant remedies Culpepper suggested for palsy and trembling were bilberries, briony (called "English mandrake"), and mistletoe. In the 1696 edition of his  Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, a variety of substances were claimed to be useful  in the treatment of "palsies", the "dead palsy", and "tremblings". These included "oil of winged ants" and preparations including earthworms.

The writer and antiquary, John Aubrey (1626-1697) wrote a biography of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) titled "Life of Mr Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury". In it, he used the term "Shaking Palsey" in his description of the progressive disability that had afflicted Thomas Hobbes. John Aubrey wrote of Thomas Hobbes that he "had the shaking Palsey in his hands.....and has grown upon him in degrees", and that ".....Mr Hobbs wase for severall yeares before he died so Paralyticall that he wase scarce able to write his name".

The Hungarian doctor Ferenc Pápai Páriz (1649-1716) described in 1690 in his medical text Pax Corporis not only individual signs of Parkinson's Disease, but all four cardinal signs : tremor, bradykinesia, rigor and postural instability. This was the first time that all the main symptoms of Parkinson's Disease have been formally described. The book was published in Hungarian, which because it is understood by so few people, has resulted in his description of Parkinson's Disease being ignored in the medical literature in favour of later descriptions of Parkinson's Disease wrongly being claimed to be the first.   

Eighteenth century

George Cheyne (1671-1743) was a Scottish physician, psychologist, philosopher and mathematician. It is possible to interpret a disorder described in chapter XII of his The English Malady (1734) as parkinsonian. The subject of his discussion is the vaguely defined "Palsy", or "Paralytick Symptoms". "Palsy" was then defined as "a disease wherein the body, or some of its members lose their motion, and sometimes their sensation of feeling. The disease is never acute, often tedious, and in old people, almost incurable; and the patient for the most part drags a miserable life.....he totters and shakes, and becomes a dismal sight; as if no longer a man, but an animal half dead".

Francois Boissier de Sauvages de la Croix (1706-1767) provided one of the clearest descriptions of a parkinsonism-like condition in 1763. He spoke of a condition that he named "sclerotyrbe festinans" in which decreased muscular flexibility led to difficulties in the initiation of walking. Both of the cases he observed were in elderly people. His observations, along with those of   Jerome David Gaubius (1705-1780) and Franciscus de la Boë (1614-1672)  were subsequently cited by James Parkinson, because although none of them described the whole syndrome, they all described aspects of it.

John Hunter (1728-1793) was a distinguished Scottish surgeon. In his Croonian lecture in 1776, John Hunter  gave a description of Lord L. that was similar to paralysis agitans. He wrote that "Lord L's hands are almost perpetually in motion, and he never feels the sensation in them of being tired. When he is asleep his hands, &c., are perfectly at rest; but when he wakes in a little time they begin to move". It has been suggested that James Parkinson may have attended this lecture.  If he did, it may have had little influence on his subsequent description of Parkinson's Disease over thirty years later.

Torna ai contenuti | Torna al menu