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Plank, R. (1955). Insight without Theory a Phobia in the Sixteenth Century. Am. Imago, 12(2):187-191.

(1955). American Imago, 12(2):187-191

Insight without Theory a Phobia in the Sixteenth Century

Robert Plank

Though not one of the great lights on the firmament of scientific fame, the Swiss physician Felix Platter (1) (1536-1614) was a leader in the reawakening of medicine that was part of the renaissance. His textbooks were literally reprinted and studied for centuries. His contributions to the field that is now psychiatry were especially appreciated, even though we can not help from our vantage point to be more aware of his limitations (5) (6).

He took care to stress that he attributed many mental diseases to supranatural agents and considered their care the proper province of the clergy (a sign of wisdom in an age of witch hunts and religious persecutions). Where he speculated on physical causes, his findings are (except for the more obvious toxic conditions) without value for us. His therapeutic armentarium consisted chiefly of bleeding, purging, emetics, baths, diet, castration, trephination, and the complicated and costly compounds which were the fashion then, with little in the way of a rationale for the application of one or the other. His case histories, however, acutely observed and tersely written up, are still fresh:

Hypochondriac melancholia has its name from the locus of its origin — underneath the costal arch. The patients can usually go about their work and are not bedridden, but they constantly have all sorts of complaints, among which upper abdominal pain holds first place. These patients for ever consult their doctor, in fact all doctors. They demand cure and try in vain the most diverse remedies. They keep changing doctors and medications.

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