Hysteria has been a topic of interest throughout the history of medicine; those who have been concerned with it include Galen, Paré, Sydenham, Charcot and Freud. Anyone who chooses to proclaim its importance, therefore, might be asked to provide some reason for gilding the lily. Controversies have always attended the subject, and different disciplines still disagree over it. The diagnosis, which occurs in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9, 1978) has been deprecated on both sides of the Atlantic (Slater, 1965; DSM-III, 1980) and also advocated with varying degrees of fervour (Walshe, 1965; Lewis, 1975; Merskey, 1979). It is a subject of historical study (Veith, 1965; Walker, 1981; Shorter, 1984); there have been at least nine monographs on it since 1977 (Horowitz, 1977; Krohn, 1978; Jakubik, 1979; Merskey, 1979; Roy, 1982; Riley & Roy, 1982; Colligan et al. 1982; Weintraub, 1983; Ford, 1983), and there is a steady flow of paper on the topic of hysteria or its major subdivisions (eg, hysterical personality, conversion symptoms) or pseudonyms and partial pseudonyms (eg, somatisation disorders, borderline personality, and operant pain).