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Forel, Auguste-Henri

Forel, Auguste-Henri

(b. near Morges, Switzerland, 1 September 1848; d. Yvorne, Switzerland, 27 July 1931)

medicine, neurology, entomology.

Forel was fascinated very early by the life of insects and particularly by that of ants. Somewhat against his own desires, he studied medicine at the University of Zurich, registering in 1866. Attracted by the courses and clinical studies in psychiatry, he devoted himself to psychology but maintained a never-failing interest in the natural sciences. He became a friend of the famous botanist and paleontologist Oswald Heer, the specialist on Tertiary flora. Later, Forel went to Vienna to work on his thesis on the anatomy of the brain, under the guidance of Theodor Meynert. In 1872 he received his doctorate in medicine. Later that year Forel moved to Munich to work with B. A. von Güdden, who had been one of his teachers in Zurich and whose reputation as a brain specialist was international. In 1877 Forel returned to Zurich, where he was appointed Privatdozent at the university. He turned increasingly to psychiatry and in 1879 became professor of psychiatry at the University of Zurich Medical School. At the same time he took on the directorship of the important Burghölzli Clinic. Troubled by the effects of alcoholism, in 1889 he established the Asile d’Ellikon, which became one of the first institutions to treat alcoholics medically and give them the means of reestablishing themselves in society. In 1893 Forel retired prematurely and was thus able to devote himself without distraction to his first interest, the study of ants, as well as to problems concerning social reforms.

Although professionally Forel was one of the important psychiatrists of the last century, he is primarily known as an ant specialist. When very young he went on a study trip to southern Switzerland; the published results of his observations at once brought him high repute as an entomologist and earned him the Schläfli Foundation Prize. As an anatomist Forel studied the internal morphology of ants carefully and thus came to propose a new taxonomy of these members of the order Hymenoptera. In addition, having become engrossed in the psychology of these insects, he contributed greatly to the study of their social instincts. Forel was the first to describe the phenomena of parabiosis and lestobiosis in ants. Having gathered a considerable collection of hymenoptera he described the various species, finding more than 3,500 new ones. Thus he became a remarkable taxonomist.

Forel was also a great brain specialist. While in Munich, under the guidance of Güdden, he was the first to achieve histological preparations of human brain specimens. His specialized studies of particular brain regions made Forel a master of the development of the nervous system’s microscopic anatomy. He made remarkable studies of the topography of the trigeminal, pneumogastric, and hypoglossal nerves and gave such a precise description of the hypothalamus that one of its regions was later named the campus Foreli in his honor.

Forel’s teaching in Zurich, the direction of his clinic, and his interest in psychology led him to effect innumerable reforms that not only influenced psychiatry in Switzerland but brought about important changes in the penal code. His publications on alcoholism made him one of the pioneers in this field. He himself practiced complete abstinence, as an example, and fought in every way possible the effects of alcoholism on the working classes. Research on hypnotism also fascinated him, and he wrote many papers on that subject. A hygienist as well, Forel published the important book La question sexuelle, which was translated into nearly twenty languages.


I. Original Works Forel’s writings include La question sexuelle (Paris, 1905; 5th ed., Paris, 1922); L’activité psychique (Geneva, 1919); Les fourmis de la Suisse (La Chauxde-Fonds, 1920); and Le testament d’A. Forel (Lausanne, 1931).

II. Secondary Literature. On Forel and his work, see E. Bugnion, “A. Forel. Souvenirs myrmécologiques recueillis,” in Mitteilungen der Schweizerischen entomologischen Gesellschaft, 15 (1931), 156; H. Kutter, “Verzeichnis des entomologischen Arbeiten von A. Forel,” ibid., 15 (1931), 180; A. Von Muralt, “A. Forel,” in Schweizerische medizinische Jahrbuch (1929), p. 6; and E. Schwiedland, Bibliographia Foreliana (Vienna, 1908).

P. E. Pilet

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