Salvador Dalí’s fear of castration

Salvador Dalí, The Great Masturbator (1929)

Salvador Dalí, The Great Masturbator (1929)

 

Salvador Dalí’s fears and obsessions inspired some of his most famous works.  Explicit sexual themes, in particular, recur with a regularity seldom seen in mainstream art.

As a schoolchild, Dalí compared his penis to those of his schoolmates and found it “small, pitiful and soft.”  For a long time, he believed himself impotent.  On reading a pornographic novel in which the protagonist said that he enjoyed “making women creak like a watermelon,” Dali worried he would never be able to do that himself.

During Dalí’s youth, his father attempted to “educate” him with a book showing explicit photos of people suffering from advanced untreated venereal diseases . These photos of grotesquely diseased genitalia fascinated and horrified Dalí.  He began to associate sex with putrefaction and decay.

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The assassination of Louis of Orléans – how John the Fearless got away with murder

 

John_the_Fearless_D_of_Burgundy

John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy

John II of Burgundy – John the Fearless as he is better known today — was famous in his day as a military hero.  But he was infamous for arranging the assassination of the king’s brother, Louis of Orléans — and convincing the king it was justified.

The king was Charles VI of France, who ruled from 1380 to 1422.  Charles suffered from what was most likely schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder.  During his recurrent episodes of madness, he had severe hallucinations and delusions.  At one point, he even believed he was made out of glass.  He forbade anyone to touch him, lest he break, and had his tailors sew rods into his clothing for additional protection.

A young Charles VI of France

A young Charles VI

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Cagliostro and the Affair of the Diamond Necklace

cagliostro

Giuseppe Balsamo a/k/a Alessandro di Cagliostro

Alchemist, forger, quack, pimp – in the 18th century, the self-styled Count Alessandro di Cagliostro was all of these and more.  He might have been forgotten were it not for his alleged involvement in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace in 1785.  The event – involving the theft of an expensive diamond necklace by means of Marie Antoinette’s forged signature —  cast suspicion on the unpopular queen and may have contributed to the French Revolution.  Although Cagliostro was found innocent of any involvement in the crime, he nevertheless was held in the Bastille for nine months and eventually asked to leave France.

Cagliostro was most likely born Giuseppe Balsamo in Palermo, Sicily.  Although his family was poor, Balsamo had a tutor and eventually became a novice in the Catholic Order of St. John of God.  Before he was expelled, he learned chemistry as well as religious rites.

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Ergot poisoning: the original Purple Haze

Detail of The Temptations of St. Anthony by Matthias Grünewald, c. 1512-15

Detail from The Temptations of St. Anthony by Matthias Grünewald, c. 1512-15

“[A] Great plague of swollen blisters consumed the people by a loathsome rot, so that their limbs were loosened and fell off before death.”  From the Annales Xantenses (857 AD).

 

It has been blamed for the Salem witch trials and the “Great Fear” of 1789,  which contributed to the French Revolution.  Its reemergence in the 20th century led to a treatment for migraine headaches and to the invention of LSD.

But in the Middle Ages, what we now call ergot poisoning, or ergotism, was a terrifying mystery known as “Holy Fire” (ignis sacer) because of the terrible burning pain it caused. Ergot — the common name for Claviceps purpurea – is a fungus that affects rye and other grains.  It contains ergotamine which, in moderate doses, causes the contraction of smooth muscle fibers, such as those in the small arteries.

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