Writing about the Cause of Madness

Pseudo-Hippocrates. Epist. 17 9.352, 354, 356 

“When I [Hippocrates] was near [Democritus], he happened to be writing something eagerly and forcefully when I arrived. So I said. “First, tell me what you are writing about.” And, after he paused for a bit, said “madness.”

So I said, “But what are you writing about madness?” He responded, “What would I write except what it may be, how it afflicts human beings, and in what way it may be treated. This is why,” he continued, “I cut up all these animals you are looking at. It is not because I hate god’s works, but because I am researching the nature and the function of the bile.

For you know that the bile is the cause of madness in humans most of the time, since it appears naturally in most people, even though some have less of it and others have more. Illnesses emerge from an unbalanced amount, implying that the material is sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful.”

I added, “By Zeus, Democritus, you are speaking truthfully and prudently and this is why I think you are blessed for having achieving such a sense of peace. This has certainly not been allotted to me.”

Then he asked, “Why, Hippocrates, has it not?” I responded, “Because fields, my home, children, debts, illnesses, deaths, servants, marriages and all these kinds of things cut off any chance for it.”

At this, that man fell into his customary behavior—he laughed deeply and mocked me and then was silent for the rest of the time.”

ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐπλησίαζον, ἔτυχεν ὅτε ἐπῆλθον αὐτέῳ, τι1 δή ποτε γράφων ἐνθουσιωδῶς καὶ μεθ’ ὁρμῆς. [. . .]

[ΙΠ.] “καὶ πρῶτόν γε τί τοῦτο τυγχάνεις γράφων φράζε.” [. . .]

ὁ δ᾽ ἐπισχὼν ὀλίγον, “περὶ μανίης,” ἔφη. [. . .]

[ΙΠ.] “ἀλλὰ τί περὶ μανίης γράφεις;”

“τί γάρ,” εἶπεν, “ἄλλο, πλὴν ἥτις τε εἴη, καὶ ὅκως ἀνθρώποισιν ἐγγίνεται, καὶ τίνα τρόπον ἀπολωφέοιτο· τά τε γὰρ ζῷα ταῦτα ὁκόσα, ἔφη, ὁρῇς, τουτέου μέντοι γε ἀνατέμνω εἵνεκα, οὐ μισέων θεοῦ ἔργα, χολῆς δὲ διζήμενος φύσιν καὶ θέσιν· οἶσθα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων παρακοπῆς ὡς αἰτίη ἐπιτοπολὺ αὕτη πλεονάσασα, ἐπεὶ πᾶσι μὲν φύσει ἐνυπάρχει, ἀλλὰ παρ’ οἷς μὲν ἔλαττον, παρ’ οἷς δέ τι πλέον· ἡ δ’ ἀμετρίη αὐτέης νοῦσοι τυγχάνουσιν, ὡς ὕλης ὅτε μὲν ἀγαθῆς, ὁτὲ δὲ φαύλης ὑποκειμένης.”

κἀγὼ, “νὴ Δία,” ἔφην, “ὦ Δημόκριτε, ἀληθέως γε καὶ φρονίμως λέγεις, ὅθεν εὐδαίμονά σε κρίνω τοσαύτης ἀπολαύοντα ἡσυχίης· ἡμῖν δὲ μετέχειν ταύτης οὐκ ἐπιτέτραπται.”

ἐρεομένου δὲ “διὰ τί, ὦ Ἱππόκρατες, οὐκ ἐπιτέτραπται;” “ὅτι,” ἔφην, “ἢ ἀγροὶ ἢ οἰκίη ἢ τέκνα ἢ δάνεια ἢ νοῦσοι ἢ θάνατοι ἢ δμῶες ἢ γάμοι ἢ τοιαῦτά τινα τὴν εὐκαιρίην ὑποτάμνεται.” ἐνταῦθα δὴ ὁ ἀνὴρ εἰς τὸ εἰωθὸς πάθος κατηνέχθη, καὶ μάλα ἀθρόον τι ἀνεκάγχασε, καὶ ἐπετώθασε, καὶ τὸ λοιπὸν ἡσυχίην ἦγεν.

Dosso Dossi, 1540

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