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Martin, A.R. (1954). Nostalgia. Am. J. Psychoanal., 14(1):93-104.

(1954). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 14(1):93-104

Nostalgia

Alexander R. Martin, M.D.

Homesickness has been a dominant theme for the great poets and writers of all times. The Bible, Homer, Hippocrates made frequent references to it. In Psalm 137, it says: “Yea, we wept when we remembered Zion,” and, “How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land.” Homer tells us that Ulysses wept and rolled on the floor when he thought of home. Hippocrates wrote of a quasi-identification between the human races and the place or climate in which their development was accomplished. He noted that whenever the people of the mountains, plains or prairies were sent to another country, a terrific perturbation always followed them and that from the moment of birth, people seemed to be impregnated by topographical influences. Caesar mentions that homesickness was frequent among the Centurians of Helvetian Gaul.

Medical History

The term “nostalgia” was first used by Johannes Hofer1 in 1688 in a thesis presented to Johannes Harder, doctor of Philosophy and Medicine and professor of Anatomy and Botany at the University in Alsace. Its derivation from the Greek nostos, a return home, and algos, meaning pining, gives us the literal “pining to return home.” Hofer was the first to describe this condition as a clinical entity.

What is significant for us in psychiatry is the fact that in 1688 the effect of emotions and sentiment upon body health was being considered. This thesis of Hofer's is an important milestone in the history of psychological and psychosomatic medicine.

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