The epileptic aura in literature: Aesthetic and philosophical dimensions. An essay


  • Titles of works are given in italics, quotations from literary works are in quotation marks. Italics within quotations are always the writer’s in the original.

Address correspondence to Peter Wolf, Danish Epilepsy Center, Kolonivej 2, DK 4293 Dianalund, Denmark. E-mail:


In literary accounts of epilepsy the aura has a prominent place as the subjective aspect of the seizure experience. Descriptions by authors with their own aura experiences stand out by their precision and authenticity. Many different aura types are mentioned, but the ecstatic aura described by Dostoyevsky has received particular attention and is echoed in many later works. Some authors are interested primarily in the possibilities provided by auras to react, for example, by hiding, seeking help, counteracting the oncoming seizure, or taking measures to prevent damage. Others by their unique aura experiences are inspired to create specific literary flavors like oxymora, spectacular metaphors, or the depiction of complex perceptions and states of mind. Some authors, adding a philosophical dimension, proceed to analyze the consequences of patients’ subjective seizure experiences for their identity and their self-perception as creative or religious persons. To sum up, the works discussed herein strongly support that literary texts provide valuable insights beyond those of medical texts.