Ottorino Rossi (1887-1936) and the development of neuropsychiatry in Pavia and Milan


Neurogeriatrics Unit. «C. Mondino Foundation», School of Medicine, Via Palestro 3, 27100 Pavia, Italy


Ottorino Rossi was born in Solbiate, near Como, in 1877, January the 17th. In 1902, he began to work in the mental and nervous diseases department of Pavia, directed by Casimiro Mondino and he became chancellor of the University after the death of Camillo Golgi, in 1926. His fame, however, is related to the remarkable work about "Primitive Position Asymmetries" with which he opened a new trend in the study of cerebral semeiotics. Under this leadership, the department of mental and nervous diseases was turned into an excellent medical structure where so many important neurological researches were carried on. Death found him at the early age of 59.

In the history of medicine, the spiritualistic notion of madness prevailed until the 16th century, without showing any signs of feeling the influence either of the reforming Hippocratic and Alexandrian schools or of the spirit of charity which flourished in the whole of Europe, and especially in Italy, after the year one thousand. In the Middle Ages, Alexander of Tralles, Paul of Egina and Avicenna referred, in vain, to the ideas of Hippocrates, Areteo and Aureliano, who considered the origins of mental illnesses to be similar to those of any other disease.

Psychiatric agnoticism thus persisted, even though Valsalva devoted himself to be observation and medical treatment of the mentally ill, and thus set in motion the study of brain alterations detectable upon autopsy (and even though the anatomo-pathological views spread by Morgagni led to important advances in medicine and to the consideration of madness as an illness of cerebral origin). It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the trend that was destinated to free psychiatry from the yoke of metaphysical and spiritualistic psychology and bring it closer to the area of general pathology and biology really emerged. In Italy, the most outstanding protagonists of this movement were Andrea Verga and Serafino Biffi.

Seeking, in a effort to achieve a fuller understanding of the nature of social misery, to merge science and compassion, they began the process of renewal that was to lead to what was, given that the brain and the mind are not separate entities, an indispensable coming together of neurology and psychiatry.


Poster Session
Tuesday, 14 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999