Male Hysteria in Salammbô

Useful studies of hysteria had begun in France under Landouzy and Briquet in 1848; they led to Charcot's work. His pupil, Freud, would in turn finally give the classic account. But Freud began to publish his findings only in the 1890s, and even at that late date he was forced to break with his collaborator, Breuer, who could not accept his insistence that the dynamic force underlying hysteria was sexual in nature. In the English-speaking countries, medical thinking was more advanced. By the 1820s, it was already known there that men, too, could be hysterical; Edgar Allan Poe described a male hysteric in a Tale he wrote in 1839. But this was not to become a common view in France for decades. It is, then, the more surprising that Flaubert should have been aware of male hysterics and should have known that episodes of dissociation could accompany hysteria. Flaubert connected sexual frustration with hysteria, too. Salammbô herself is an obvious hysteric and the cause of her malady is clearly repressed sexuality. Flaubert actually notes that he studied hysteria to aid him in depicting her. Our concern, however, is with Mâtho, who has the wild aberrations of mood of the hysteric personality, sometimes lost in torpor, at other times violent and frenzied. Flaubert obviously understood that men, too, suffer from hysteria and may experience its wide swings of emotion and it dissociations. But much more importantly, he knew men could be hysterics because he was one himself, and he knew it. (BFB)

Bart, B. F
Volume 1984 Spring; 12(3): 313-21.