A pivotal figure of the "terror in a wheelchair": An attempt at etiological diagnosis of Georges Auguste Couthon's paraplegia

Régis OLRY and Genevieve DUPONT
Departement de chimie-biologie, Université du Québec a Trois-Rivières, Canada

In July 1899, a women bequeathed to the Musee Carnavalet the old wheelchair covered with lemon-yellow velvet, which belonged to her great-grandfather Georges-Auguste Couthon. In the early 1790s, Couthon had been with Robespierre and Saint-Just one of the pivotal figures of the Terror. Nicknamed the "Attila of Lyon", he was responsible for re-Jacobinizing the rebel city, and will always be remembered as the rapporteur of the terrifying law of prairial on June 10, 1794. Two years before his death, Couthon was completely paraplectic, a disease supposed to have been caused in his younger days (before 1787), when he hid one night long in a sunk draining trap to escape a jealous husband. His paraplegia does not seem to have led to sexual disorders (he had a first son on December 17, 1787, and a second one on January 21, 1790), increased gradually (he was still able to walk on crutches in October 1791, but no more in May 1792), and was spastic (it took about fifteen minutes to lie him on the plank of the guillotine on July 28, 1794; it would not have been a problem to lie a condemned person with a flaccid paraplegia). Moreover, Couthon also suffered from headaches and coercive hiccup. Dr Augustin Cabanes a posteriori diagnosed a “chronic dorsolumbar pachymeningitis originally localized to the roots of the lumbosacral plexus”. The aim of this presentation is to rebuild the chronology of Couthon’s symptoms in order to try to throw a new light on the real etiology of his paraplegia.

Session X -- Poster Session 2
Tuesday, 29 June 2004, 8:45 - 9:25 am

Ninth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Montreal, Quebec, Canada