How a given society perceives madness has been increasingly used as a social litmus. Colombia is no exception. There, the treatment of the mentally ill has had an uneven development, going back (as far as systematized modern medical protocol is concerned) no more than the past 70 years.
Colombian psychiatry has found its chronicler in Humberto Rosselli. Two decades ago, be presented us with his Historia de la psiquiatría en Colombia. The present volume is a collection of 16 articles and essays written over the past 20 years by Rosselli on madness, madmen, medical aspects of military history, and physicians and psychiatrists who lent their professional talents to curing the insane in Colombia. The period covered ranges from pre-Columbian times to the present stage of the Violencia (urban terrorism).
Space does not permit more than a cursory listing of the essays contained in “La locura de Epifanio,” the title piece of the book and its longest item. It is an examination of the mental illness of Epifanio Mejía (1838-1913), the gifted Antioquian bard whose manic depression caused him to spend the last half of his life in the Medellín asylum. Next is a piece which treats the marijuana addiction of Porfirio Barba Jacob (Miguel Ángel Osorio, 1883-1942), another famed Antioquian poet. Then follow two studies on Sigmund Freud; one traces his Hispanism and initial impact on Colombia, the other discusses Freud’s strange omission of the Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaton in his Moses and Monotheism.
The remaining ten articles deal more directly with Colombian medical and psychiatric history. Distilled from 20 years of study, they are of special interest and utility. There is some unavoidable repetition, notably in the two which examine medical aspects of the War of Independence, but this aside, the student of Colombian social history will find a rich harvest of information in this modestly titled but well-documented small tome which neatly complements Rosselli’s earlier two-volume work.