[no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-]
The term nostalgia describes a longing for the past, often in idealized form. The word is made up of two Greek roots (νόστος nostos "returning home", and άλγος algos "pain"), to refer to "the pain a sick person feels because he wishes to return to his native home, and fears never to see it again". It was described as a medical condition, a form of melancholy, in the Early Modern period, and came to be an important topic in Romanticism.

Medical condition

The term was coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) in his Basel dissertation. Hofer introduced nostalgia or mal du pays "homesickness" for the condition also known as mal du Suisse "Swiss illness" or Schweizerheimweh "Swiss homesickness", because of its frequent occurrence in Swiss mercenaries who in the plains of lowlands of France or Italy were pining for their native mountain landscapes. English homesickness is a loan translation of nostalgia. Cases resulting in death were known and soldiers were sometimes successfully treated by being discharged and sent home. Receiving a diagnosis was, however, generally regarded as an insult.

In 1787, Robert Hamilton (1749–1830) described a case of a soldier suffering from nostalgia, who received sensitive and successful treatment. In 1781, in the north of England, Hamilton met a new recruit who had "a melancholy hung over his countenance, and wanness preyed on his cheeks", a "universal weakness, but no fixed pain; a noise in his ears, and giddiness of his head". The young soldier would not eat, and he got weaker until the nurse happened to discuss his hometown with him. Hamilton noted that the topic of home seemed to cheer the soldier's spirits; after Hamilton told the young recruit that he could return home, he began eating again and his strength returned. By the 1850s, nostalgia was losing its status as a disease and coming to be seen as a symptom or stage of a pathological process. It was considered as a form of melancholia and a predisposing condition among suicides. By the 1870s, interest in nostalgia as a medical category had all but vanished.


Swiss nostalgia was linked to the singing of Kuhreihen, which were forbidden to Swiss mercenaries because they lead to nostalgia to the point of desertion, illness or death. The 1767 Dictionnaire de Musique by Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that Swiss mercenaries were threatened with severe punishment to prevent them from singing their Swiss songs. It became somewhat of a topos in Romantic literature, and figures in the poem Der Schweizer by Achim von Arnim (1805) and in Clemens Brentano's Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1809) as well as in the opera Le Chalet by Adolphe Charles Adam (1834) which was performed for Queen Victoria under the title The Swiss Cottage. The Romantic connection of nostalgia, the Kuhreihen and the Swiss Alps was a significant factor in the enthusiasm for Switzerland, the development of early tourism in Switzerland and Alpinism that took hold of the European cultural elite in the 19th century. German Romanticism coined an opposite to Heimweh, Fernweh "far-sickness", "longing to be far away", like Wanderlust expressing the Romantic desire to travel and explore.

See also


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