Retracing "Ondine's curse"

Neurosurgery. 2005 Aug;57(2):354-63; discussion 354-63. doi: 10.1227/01.neu.0000166684.69422.49.


"Ondine's curse" is a term used to denote a rare neurological condition causing failure of automatic respiration. The patients are no longer capable of breathing spontaneously-they must consciously and voluntarily force themselves to do so. Ondine (also known as "Undine"), a mythological figure of European tradition, was a water nymph or sprite who could become human only when she fell in love with a mortal man. However, if the mortal was unfaithful to her, he was destined to forfeit his life. In the 16th century, Paracelsus coined the term "Undine" to describe the spirit that inhabited the element of water. Baron de la Motte-Fouque wrote the story of Undine in the late 18th century. It has since become a popular subject for theater productions. Jean Giraudoux, the French playwright, introduced the concept of the loss of automaticity of all functions as the "curse of Ondine." The legend was popularized in the form of the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen and as an animated motion picture by Walt Disney Productions. In this study, we look at the origins of this eponymous term, the personalities intertwined with its popularity, and its misrepresentations in the medical literature.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Literature, Modern
  • Medicine in Literature
  • Mythology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / complications*
  • Paintings
  • Respiration Disorders / etiology*
  • Terminology as Topic