Ancient Greek Depression: Galen on Fear and Loathing

Galen, De Locis Affectis 8.190-191

“Fear always plagues people with melancholy but they don’t always have the same kind of abnormal (para phusin) thoughts. For example, one person believes that he has grown a shell and because of this he avoids everyone who nears him so that he might not break it. When another hears the roosters singing, just as if the birds strike their wings before their song, he also slaps his arms against his sides and imitates the animals’ voice. Fear comes to another that Atlas who is supporting the universe might drop it because he is worn out and for this reason he will be crushed and he will destroy us with him.

But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.

For this reason it seems right that Hippocrates divided all of these symptoms into two groups: fear (phobos) and despair (dusthumia). Because of this sort of despair, they hate everyone they see and are always gloomy and they are afraid like children are frightened in deep darkness and uneducated adults too. As external darkness makes nearly all people afraid, except for those who are bold by nature or have been well-educated for it, so too the color of the black bile overshadows places of thought with darkness and makes people afraid.

The fact that the humors and altogether the equilibrium (krâsis) of the body may alter the reality of the mind is agreed upon by the best doctors and philosophers and I have shown in already in one publication in which by pursuing the body’s balances I demonstrated the abilities of the mind. For this reason, those who are ignorant about the power of humors do not dare to write anything about melancholy. Of these, there are also those of the school of Erasistratos. It is right to be amazed at him for people’s common thoughts, as with many other beliefs about which not a few philosophers and doctors are ignorant. Therefore, nearly everyone calls melancholy a sickness, indicating through this name that its cause is bile.”

ἀεὶ μὲν οὖν  οἱ φόβοι συνεδρεύουσι τοῖς μελαγχολικοῖς, οὐκ ἀεὶ δὲ ταὐτὸν εἶδος τῶν παρὰ φύσιν αὐτοῖς γίγνεται φαντασιῶν, εἴγε ὁ μέν τις ὀστρακοῦς ᾤετο γεγονέναι, καὶ διὰ τοῦτ’ ἐξίστατο τοῖς ἀπαντῶσιν, ὅπως μὴ συντριβείη· θεώμενος δέ τις ἄλλος ἀλεκτρυόνας ᾄδοντας, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνοι τὰς πτέρυγας προσέκρουον πρὸ ᾠδῆς, οὕτω καὶ αὐτὸς τοὺς βραχίονας προσκρούων ταῖς πλευραῖς ἐμιμεῖτο τὴν φωνὴν τῶν ζώων. φόβος δ’ ἦν ἄλλῳ, μή πως ὁ βαστάζων τὸν κόσμον ῎Ατλας ἀποσείσηται κεκμηκὼς αὐτὸν, οὕτως τε καὶ αὐτὸς συντριβείη καὶ ἡμᾶς αὐτῷ συναπολέσειεν·

ἄλλα τε μυρία τοιαῦτα φαντασιοῦνται. διαφέρονται δὲ ἀλλήλων οἱ μελαγχολικοὶ, τὸ μὲν φοβεῖσθαι καὶ δυσθυμεῖν καὶ μέμφεσθαι τῇ ζωῇ καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντες ἔχοντες, ἀποθανεῖν δ’ ἐπιθυμοῦντες οὐ πάντες, ἀλλ’ ἔστιν ἐνίοις αὐτῶν αὐτὸ δὴ τοῦτο κεφάλαιον τῆς μελαγχολίας, τὸ περὶ τοῦ θανάτου δέος· ἔνιοι δὲ ἀλλόκοτοί σοι δόξουσιν, ἅμα τε καὶ δεδιέναι τὸν θάνατον καὶ θανατᾷν. ὥστε ὀρθῶς ἔοικεν ὁ ῾Ιπποκράτης εἰς δύο ταῦτα ἀναγαγεῖν τὰ συμπτώματα αὐτῶν πάντα, φόβον καὶ δυσθυμίαν· ἐπί γέ τοι τῇ τοιαύτῃ δυσθυμίᾳ  μισοῦσιν πάντας, οὓς ἂν βλέπωσιν, καὶ σκυθρωποὶ διὰ παντός εἰσι, δειμαίνοντες, ὥσπερ ἐν σκότῳ βαθεῖ τά τε παιδία φοβεῖται καὶ τῶν τελείων οἱ ἀπαίδευτοι. καθάπερ γὰρ καὶ τὸ ἔξωθεν σκότος εἰς φόβον ἄγει σχεδὸν ἅπαντας ἀνθρώπους, πλὴν τῶν ἤτοι πάνυ φύσει τολμηρῶν, ἢ πεπαιδευμένων, οὕτως καὶ τῆς μελαίνης χολῆς τὸ χρῶμα παραπλησίως σκότῳ τὸν φρονοῦντα τόπον ἐπισκιάζον ἐργάζεται τοὺς φόβους.

ὅτι γὰρ οἵ τε χυμοὶ καὶ ὅλως ἡ τοῦ σώματος κρᾶσις ἀλλοιοῖ τὰς ἐνεργείας τῆς ψυχῆς, ὡμολόγηται τοῖς ἀρίστοις ἰατροῖς τε καὶ φιλοσόφοις, ἐμοί τε δι’ ἑνὸς ὑπομνήματος ἀποδέδεικται, καθ’ ὃ ταῖς τοῦ σώματος κράσεσιν ἀκολουθούσας ἀπέδειξα τὰς τῆς ψυχῆς δυνάμεις· ὅθεν οὐδὲ γράψαι τι περὶ μελαγχολίας ἐτόλμησαν οἱ τὴν τῶν χυμῶν δύναμιν ἀγνοήσαντες, ἐξ ὧν εἰσι καὶ οἱ περὶ τὸν ᾿Ερασίστρατον.  ἄξιον δέ ἐστι κᾀν τούτῳ θαυμάσαι τὰς κοινὰς ἐννοίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὥσπερ καὶ τἄλλα πολλὰ δόγματα, περὶ ὧν ἠγνόησαν οὐκ ὀλίγοι φιλοσόφων τε καὶ ἰατρῶν· ἅπαντες γοῦν ὀνομάζουσιν τὸ πάθος τοῦτο μελαγχολίαν, ἐνδεικνύμενοι διὰ  τῆς προσηγορίας τὸν αἴτιον αὐτοῦ χυμόν.

 

*Erasistratos was a doctor and author during the Hellenistic period.

I found this passage from reading: Patricia A. Clark and M. Lynn Rose. 2016. “Psychiatric Disability in the Galenic Medical Matrix.” In Christian Laes, Chris Goodey, and M. Lynn Rose (eds.). Disabilities in Roman Antiquity: Disparate Bodies a Capite Ad Calcem. Leiden: 45-72.

5 responses

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