Gaius Julius Caesar
born July 13, 100 BC in Rome, died March 15, 44 BC in Rome
Shakespeare knew that the Roman statesman and commander Julius Caesar suffered from the 'falling sickness'. In Act I, Scene ii of his tragedy Julius Caesar, Casca describes how Caesar 'swooned and fell down...' and a few verses later says: 'He fell down in the market place, and foamed at the mouth, and was speechless.'
The assumption that Caesar suffered from epilepsy is backed by several sources dating back to Roman times. For instance, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (Sueton, approx. 70-140 AD), the biographer of the first Roman emperor ('Vitae Caesarum'), reports that Caesar twice had epileptic seizures ('Defectio epileptica') while he was working. Appianus, the Roman historian from the second century AD, also mentions Caesar's 'epilepsy and sudden convulsions' in his description of the republican era. Plutarch states that Caesar had an epileptic seizure in the midst of the fighting during the Battle of Thapsus.
The Roman authors already link Caesar's epilepsy to cerebral sclerosis, while others attribute it to alcohol. This would suggest that in ancient Rome a distinction was already being made between the 'genuine falling sickness' and a symptomatic type of epilepsy.
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