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Meynert, Theodor (1833-1892)

MEYNERT, THEODOR (1833-1892)

Theodor Meynert, an Austrian psychiatrist, was born in Dresden in 1833 and died at Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, in 1892.

His father was a writer and his mother a singer at the court opera. Meynert, a "curious mixture of artist and naturalist," became a doctor of medicine in 1861 and in 1865 he presented a thesis that authorized him to teach in third level education: Bau une Leistungen des Gehirns und Rückenmarks mit Beziehung zu deren Erkrankungen (Structure and activity of the brain and spinal cord in relation to their pathology). In 1868 his authorization was extended to include psychiatry. An experienced dissector, he was appointed director of a psychiatric hospital in Lower Austria in 1870. By 1873 he occupied a chair of psychiatry and in 1875 he became the director of the psychiatric clinic attached to the University of Vienna.

Meynert's scientific contributions are related to his work on the pathology of the brain, such as mapping the topography of the sensory and motor pathways and identifying the nerve endings in the cerebral motor cortex and the linking pathways of the cerebellum, as well as functional antagonisms that are important for the history of the evolution between the cerebral cortex and the rest of the brain. Meynert is recognized as the founder of the cytoarchitectonics of the cerebral cortex. He devoted himself to establishing psychiatry as an exact science based on anatomy. He formulated the antagonism between the cortex and the sub-cortical zones as being the key to the abnormal function of cerebral mechanisms in mental illness. He left his mark on theories concerning the causal links between cerebral pathologies and psychoses as a result of deficits in cerebral nutrition related to vasomotri-city. His article "Amentia" (1890/1983) describes and demonstrates the interaction between organic and psychological factors.

In July 1882, when he entered the general hospital of Vienna as an intern, Freud had already abandoned his career as a researcher with Brücke for financial reasons. Having worked as an assistant physician in Meynert's clinic from May 1 to September 31, 1883, he continued his laboratory research into the anatomy of the brain for another eighteen months. However, his initial high esteem for Meynert was transformed into a critical distance with regard to the "idol Meynert enthroned in the heavens." Meynert later distanced himself from Freud because of the latter's interest and experience with Charcot's ideas in Paris and his therapeutic involvement with hypnotism.

Eva Laible

See also: Absence; "Autobiographical Study, An"; Freud, the Secret Passion; Kantianism and psychoanalysis; Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams ; Vienna General Hospital.


Freud, Sigmund. (1960b [1885]). Curriculum vitae. In J. Gicklhorn and R. Gicklhorn, Sigmund Freuds akademische Laufbahn im Lichte der Dokumente. Vienna: Urvan & Schwarzenberg.

. (1985c [1887-1904]). The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887 -1904 (J. M. Masson Trans. and Ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hirschmüller, Albrecht. (1991). Freuds Begegnung mit der Psychiatrie. Tübingen: Diskord.

Lesky, Erna. (1976). The Vienna Medical School of the 19th Century (L. Williams and I. S. Levij, Trans.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. (Original work published in 1965)

Meynert, Theodor. (1983). L'Amentia, ou confusion. C. Levy-Friesacher (Ed.), Meynert-Freud "L'amentia". Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. (Original work published 1890)

Pappenheim, Else. (1975). On Meynert's Amentia. History of Medicine, 9, 3-4.

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