Was Chopin epileptic?

Scientists seek to explain composer’s hallucinations

Published: September 30, 2021 at 4:42 pm

What did Chopin have in common with Julius Caesar and Napoleon? No, not a burning desire to build an empire. The answer, say Spanish scientists, is that they all suffered from epilepsy.


The Polish composer, who was prone to hallucinations and bouts of melancholy, claimed to have seen creatures emerging from the piano during a London recital in 1848, and once described a ‘cohort of phantoms’ taunting him. These brief visual hallucinations, and migraine, are symptoms of the temporal lobe epilepsy Spanish scientists believe he might have suffered from. They drew their conclusions after trawling Chopin’s letters and accounts by those who knew him for clues as to the nature of his visions.

Although Chopin usually took opium-based medicines to quell his physical symptoms, these aren’t believed to be the cause of his hallucinations. Chopin started taking these long after he first had symptoms, the researchers suggest in the journal Medical Humanities. It’s the latest diagnosis in a long list of afflictions the composer is thought to have suffered from, including bipolar disorder and cystic fibrosis.


While this is far from being a concrete diagnosis, Dr Manuel Várquez Caruncho said that ‘knowing Chopin had this condition could help to separate romanticised legend from reality and shed new light in order to better understand the man and his life.’

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