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J Hist Neurosci. 2013;22(1):79-95. doi: 10.1080/0964704X.2012.671020.

The frog's dancing master: science, séances, and the transmission of myths.

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  • 1Centre for Neuroscience, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy.


Myths are not uncommon in the history of neuroscience and their tenacity even when faced with suitable correctives is impressive. The possible origins and transmission of one such myth is examined: the oft repeated quotation, attributed to Luigi Galvani, that he was the "frog's dancing master." The statement does not occur in Galvani's writing and appears to have accrued features in the early nineteenth century, largely from French writers. In the 1870s, the quotation was used by William Crookes, the discoverer of thallium and inventor of Crookes' tube, in implicit support of his investigations into spiritualist phenomena. Crookes arranged séances with the psychic Daniel Dunglas Home and, being unable to explain them, introduced the concept of psychic force. A related myth concerns Galvani's accidental discovery of the neuromuscular action of electricity in the course of preparing a beneficial broth for his ailing wife. The two myths became entwined in the tangled web woven by commentators of Galvani's work. The myth-information is magnified by the World Wide Web.

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