In the second half of the nineteenth century, European scientists began investigating genius as a psychopathological phenomenon. The most important representative of this genre of medical literature was the Italian criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, for whom genius and inborn criminality were closely interconnected; in his view, studying the special intuition of the genius, arising though it does from a pathological condition (a form of epilepsy), might advance the work of science. Edgar Allan Poe was one of Lombroso's key examples: he discussed Poe in all four of his books on genius, arguing that dipsomania had brought about an undiagnosed case of epilepsy that manifested itself as genius. Drawing on French, Italian, and German sources, this article examines Lombroso's interpretation of Poe as well as the interpretations put forward by his followers and opponents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It seeks to demonstrate that, although psychiatrists and other scientists trying to understand the genius of Poe did so in the name of science and of positivism, they actually reinforced the Poe myth established by Charles Baudelaire and R. W. Griswold.
2016. Vol. 49, 99-125 p.