“This is the reason it is possible to estimate a greater number of divinities than there are humans: individuals make a number of gods equal to their number by adopting their own Junos and Genii. Indeed, some peoples have animals, even horrible ones, for gods and many others too shameful to report, such as swearing by rotten food or other similar things.
Believing in marriage among the gods but without anyone being born from them for such a great span of time or that some are always old and graying while others are eternally young even children, or that some gods are dark-colored, winged, crippled born from eggs, or dying and living on alternating days, these beliefs are like childhood delusions. But it is beyond every kind of shame to imagine adultery among them, then strife and hatred, and that there are powers of thieves and criminals. “God” is a person helping another person; this is the path to eternal fame.”
quamobrem maior caelitum populus etiam quam hominum intellegi potest, cum singuli quoque ex semetipsis totidem deos faciant Iunones Geniosque adoptando sibi, gentes vero quaedam animalia et aliqua etiam obscena pro dis habeant ac multa dictu magis pudenda, per fetidos cibos et alia similia iurantes. matrimonia quidem inter deos credi tantoque aevo ex eis neminem nasci, et alios esse grandaevos semper canosque, alios iuvenes atque pueros, atricolores, aligeros, claudos, ovo editos et alternis diebus viventes morientesque, puerilium prope deliramentorum est; sed super omnem inpudentiam adulteria inter ipsos fingi, mox iurgia et odia, atque etiam furtorum esse et scelerum numina. deus est mortali iuvare mortalem, et haec ad aeternam gloriam via.
“We might encounter good fortune and then we will arrive, as we imagine, with better hopes as was made clear in the letter, if the case is that the man is not displaying madness but instead some overwhelming strength of spirit—this despite the fact that he is considering neither children nor wife nor relatives nor any other thing at all—and he has spent day and night by himself, staying alone for the most part in caves or deserted places or under the shadow of trees or in soft grasses or alongside the quiet flows of water.
It is many times the case for those suffering from melancholy to exhibit these kinds of behaviors. Such people are sometimes quiet and solitary and love isolation too. They keep themselves apart from people and consider their own tribe to be a foreign sight.
But it is not unreasonable for those who have been dedicated to education to shake off other thoughts because of a single category in wisdom. For, just as enslaved men and women who are yelling and fighting in their homes, when their mistress suddenly appears, step apart in quiet because they are afraid, in the same way too the rest of the thoughts in human minds are servants of evils; but when the sight of wisdom made itself seen, the rest of the sufferings have retreated like slaves.
It is not only the insane who desire caves and peace at all, but many people who have contempt for human affairs do too because of a desire not to be troubled. For whenever the mind, struck by external thoughts, longs to rest the body, then it returns to peace as soon as possible and, standing straight up, searches in a circle in himself for the land of truth in which there is no father, mother, wife, child, brother, relative, slaves, nor chance, nor at all any of those things which create a disturbance.”
Is this normal depression, because I am going to die some day?
Is this seasonal depression, because the trees are dying?
Is this depression from trauma of the past 2 years overloading my body?
Is this depression from a lack of agency in modern politics and economics?
Is this generational depression because the planet is dying?
The Greeks have different questions: is your melancholy tortoise, rooster, or Atlas based?
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 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.”
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.
The modern debate about “mind” verses “brain” has its origins in antiquity and notions of the “soul” and the “body”. Hippocrates presents one of the earliest arguments that everything is physical and biological.
Hippocrates of Cos, On the Sacred Disease 14
“People should know that our pleasures, happiness, laughter, and jokes from nowhere else [but the brain] and that our griefs, pains, sorrows, depressions and mourning come from the same place. And through it we think especially, and ponder, and see and hear and come to perceive both shameful things and noble things and wicked things and good things as well as sweet and bitter, at times judging them so by custom, at others by understanding what is advantageous based on distinguishing what is pleasurable and not in the right time and [that] these things are not the same to us.
By this very organ we become both sane and delirious and fears and horrors attend us sometimes at night and sometimes at day. This brings us bouts of sleeplessness and makes us mistake-prone at terrible times, bringing thoughts we cannot follow, and deeds which are unknown, unaccustomed or untried.
Yes, we suffer all these things from or brain when it is not health but is hotter than natural, too cold or too wet or too dry or suffers any other kind of thing contrary to its custom. We go insane because of its moistness. For whenever it is wetter than natural, it is forced to move. And when it moves, neither sight can be still nor hearing. Instead, we hear and see different things at different times and the tongue talks about the kinds of things it sees and hears each time. But a person can think as long as the brain remains still.”
“For these reasons I think that the brain has the most power in the human being. For when it happens to be healthy, it is our interpreter of all the things that happen from the air. And air furnishes intelligence. The eyes, and ears, and tongue and hands and feet do the kinds of things the brain decides. Indeed, the portion of intelligence distributed throughout the body comes from the air. The brain is the emissary to understanding. For whenever a person draws breath inside it rushes first to the brain and then it spreads through the rest of the body once it leaves its distilled form in the brain, that very thing which is thought and has judgment. If it were to enter the body first and the rain later, it would leave understanding in the flesh and the arteries and then go hot and impure into the brain, all mixed up with the bile from flesh and blood, with the result that it would uncertain.”
Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’sSeptember 2014, 49-52.
“The self does not exist as a paranormal being living on its own within the brain. It is, instead, the central dramatic character of the confabulated scenarios. In these stories, it is always on center stage—if not as participant, then as observer and commentator—because that is where all of the sensory information arrives and is integrated.”
For a good overview of issues of brain, mind and consciousness from multiple disciplinary perspectives, see Dennett, Dale C. 2017. From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. New York.
“Amyntas in his work which he named Stages writes that in the Caspian land there are many herds of cattle and horses almost beyond counting. He adds this as well, that in some seasons an unconquerable plague of rats blights the land. He continues with evidence, saying that even though the rivers flow at that of year with a huge surge, the rats swim fearlessly and they even hold on to each other’s tales, biting down on one another, to form a bridge and they they cross the strait in this way.
After swimming into the farmland, he says, they grind down the roots of crops and swarm over trees and once they use their fruits for their meals they sever the branches too just because they are not able to eat them. For this reason, the Caspians—in order to ward off this invasion of rats and the ruin they bring—do not kill the predatory birds which come in turn, flying down from the clouds, and fulfill their nature by freeing the Caspians of this plague.
Caspian foxes are so numerous that they frequent both the sheepfolds in the country and they also appear in cities. By Zeus, a fox will show up in a house not to steal something or ruin it, but like some kind of pet. The Caspian foxes wag their tails just like pet dogs in our land.
The rats of the terrible plague afflicting the Caspians are almost the same in size when you look a them as the ikhneumenos of Egypt, but they are wild, and terrible, and they have teeth strong enough to cut and even eat metal. The rats in Teridon, Babylonia are like this too—and traders bring their skins to sell among the Persians. Indeed, these skins are soft and can be sewn together as a tunic to warm people. And they call them kandutanes, because it is dear to them.
Here is something amazing about these rats: if a pregnant female is caught and her fetus is removed, when the female fetus is dissected and examined, it also has a baby.”
“A young man who had run on a rough road developed pain in his heel, especially close to the bottom. The area did not permit any draining of liquid because it was still producing moisture. On the fourth day, after his run, the whole area started turning dark right up to the joint of the ankle and below to the arch of the foot. It did not break out completely, instead he died first. He lived twenty full days after his run.”
The following is a penultimate step in a treatment for female infertility
“During the final vapor bath, at that moment when she is about to stop the treatment, cut open the youngest puppy you can find, pound down every kind of fragrant and dry aromatic spices. After you have removed the puppy’s innards, fill it as much as you can with the aromatics and pack them in. Put wood underneath, put the puppy in the pot and add in some extremely fragrant wine before you raise the temperature through the pipe.
As much as her strength will allow, have the woman stay in the vapor bath the entire day, continuing the heating and asking her whether she thinks that the smell of the herbs is coming through her mouth. For this is no small sign that the woman being treated has conceived.”
“Blood returns only slowly from the heart and mind because the veins there are transverse and the place is really important and is inclined toward madness and anger. Whenever these parts are filled, a wandering shiver moves about with a fever. When the situation is like this, a woman goes into a rage because of the inflammation. She wants to murder because of the rotting. And because of the depression, she is frightened and afraid. The compression around the heart cause them to want to self-harm and because of the evil state of the blood, her mind is sad and sorrowful and longs for evil.
She also names weird and frightening things that push women to leap or to throw themselves in wells or hang themselves. Even when there are no visions, there’s some strange pleasure that makes her long for death as if it is a kind of good thing. When a woman is sensible again, women will dedicate many different things to Artemis, including really expensive women’s cloaks all because they are tricked by prophets.
Relief from this disease comes whenever there is nothing impeding the flow of blood. I tell young women who are suffering this kind of thing to live with a man as soon as possible, since, if they are pregnant, they become healthy. Otherwise, a girl will be overtaken by this disease or another in puberty or a little latter on. Barren married women sometimes suffer these things.”
“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.”
Plutarch, The Cleverness of Animals Moralia 961 a-b
“And here is the argument of Strato the Natural Philosopher demonstrating that it is not possible to sense anything at all without the power of thought. It is true that we may travel over letters with our sight and words fall on our ears which escape us since we are paying attention to other things. But later the mind returns, changes, and pursues each of the details which were overlooked. And this is what the saying means “the mind sees and the mind hears, but the rest is deaf and blind.” And so experiences which impact the eyes or ears do not yield understanding unless thought is present.
This is why Kleomenes the king, when a performance was applauded at a symposium and he was asked whether it seemed fine to him, he said that others should think about it, since he was worrying about the Peloponnese. From this it is necessary that all creatures who have perception also have understanding, if we are able to perceive through understanding.”
“I [Hippocrates] said, “Know that you should explain the reason for your laughter.” And [Democritus], after glaring at me for a bit, said, “you believe that there are two reasons for my laughter, good things and bad things. But I laugh for one reason: the human being. Humans are full of ignorance but empty of correct affairs, acting like babies in their little plots, and also laboring over endless toil without winning any profit.
Humans travel to the ends of the earth and over the uncharted wilds with unchecked desires, minting silver and gold and never stopping in the pursuit of possession, but always throwing a fit for more, so that there’s never one bit less than others have. And then, they are not at all ashamed to call themselves happy.”