“A young man who had drunk too much unmixed wine was sleeping on his back in a tent. A bright snake entered his mouth. When he felt it, and he couldn’t imagine what to do, he clamped his teeth down and bit off the snake. Then he was overcome by a severe pain and put his hands up as if he was choking and thrashed around. He had seizures and died.”
“Whenever he went to a drinking party, Nikanor was afflicted with fear of the flute girl. Whenever she began playing the flute and he would hear it in the Symposium, he would be filled with anxiety. He said he could scarcely endure it whenever it was night. But during the day time, he was not scared off by hearing it. These kinds of reactions lasted a very long time.”
“Democles, who was his companion, used to seem blind and weak in his body. He was not able to walk along a cliff or on a bridge to cross over even a smallest depth of a ditch. But he was capable of crossing the ditch itself. This impacted him for a great amount of time.”
“Bouts of depression and a longing for death afflicted Parmeniskos before too; but he was in turns touched by a sense of elation. Once, in Olynthos during the Autumn, he went to bed without a voice and rested, not even trying to begin speaking for some time. At other times, he spoke a bit, but then again went silent. Sleep overcame him but then he would be awake, turning repeatedly in silence and delirium. His hand would go to his hypochondria as if he were in pain. Sometimes he would turn away and lie very still. He had a continuous fever but was breathing easily. He said afterwards that he knew who the people who entered were. Sometimes, he would refuse the water they offered for a whole day and night; at other times, he would grab the pitcher and drink it all. He had urine as thick as a mule’s. But he was better by the 14th day.”
Oribasius is said to have studied medicine in Alexandria; he later served as the court doctor to Julian the Apostate. He wrote several encyclopedic summaries of medical knowledge at the time. The text produced for a friend’s son (Synopsis ad Eustathium) is identical to that attributed to Paulus of Aegina and seems to form the core of medical treatises on lycanthropy.
“Men who are afflicted with lycanthropy go out at night and imitate wolves in every way, spending time until daybreak among the gravestones. You will recognize that someone is suffering from this by the following symptoms. They appear pale and look weak; they have dry eyes and cannot cry. You may observe that their eyes are hollow and their tongue is especially dry: they cannot really produce saliva. They are thus thirsty and in addition they have wounded shins from scraping the ground frequently.
These are the symptoms; for treatment it is important to recognize that this is a type of melancholy which you may treat at the time the disease is noticed by cutting open the veins and draining blood until the patient almost passes out. Let him be washed in a sweet bath. After rubbing him down with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve* to him on the second and third day. Following these cleansings, anoint him with the antidote for viper-venom and do the rest of the things prescribed for melancholy. When they disease has already come over those who are accustomed to sleepwalk, anoint them with lotion. And rub opium on their ears and nostrils when they are ready to sleep.”
* The pumpkin or gourd (Gr. kolokunthos) was associated with life and health due to its “juicy nature”; see LSJ s.v. This may explain its ritual/therapeutic use both in cleansing an association with death and with treating a patient exhibiting extreme symptoms of dryness.
Aetius was a Byzantine doctor and writer who may have lived as early as the fifth century CE.He also studied at Alexandria and collated sixteen books of medicine—much of which was drawn from Galen and Oribasius. His indebtedness to the latter is clear from his passage on lycanthropy, but there are interesting additions. I have marked the significant additions in bold.
On Lykanthropy or Kynanthropy, following Marcellus*
Those who are afflicted by the disease once-called kynanthropy or lycanthropy go out at night during the month Pheurouarion** and imitate wolves or dogs in every way as they spend time until daybreak around gravestones especially. You will recognize people who suffer in this way from the following symptoms: They are pale, they look weak, they have dry eyes and a dry tongue and they don’t completely secrete saliva. They are thirsty and they have festering wounds on their shins from falling continuously and from dog bites.
Such are the symptoms. For treatment, you need to understand that lycanthropy is a type of melancholy. You treat it at the time the disease is noticed by cutting open the veins and draining the blood until the point when the patient passes out, then treat the sick with well-flavored food. Let him be washed in a sweet bath, and after rubbing him with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve to him from [Rouphos, Archigenos, or Ioustos]. After these cleansings, anoint him with the viper-venom antidote. Also do all the other things that are prescribed earlier for melancholy.
When the disease comes on in the evening, rub down the heads of those who tend to sleepwalk with a lotion and for those who hunt by scent, smear some opium on their nostrils. Sometimes it is also necessary to administer a sleeping medicine.”
*According to the Suda, Marcellus was a doctor of Marcus Aurelius (2nd Century) who wrote two books on medicine in dactylic hexameter.
**Presumably this coincides with the month February and may have a special connection with Lycanthropy due to the Lupercalia.
Paulus (of Aegina, c. 7th Century CE) A 7th Century CE Byzantine Physician who wrote De Re Medica Libri Septem) The Suda (s.v. Paulus) writes: Παῦλος, Αἰγινήτης, ἰατρός. ἔγραψεν ἰατρικὰ βιβλία διάφορα (“Paulos, from Aeigina, a doctor. He wrote various medical books”).
The text below is identical to that attributed to Oribasius:
“Men who are afflicted with lycanthropy go out at night and imitate wolves in every way, spending time until daybreak among gravestones. You will recognize that someone is suffering from this by the following symptoms. They appear pale and look weak; they have dry eyes and cannot cry. You may observe that their eyes are hollow and their tongue is especially dry: they cannot really produce saliva. They are thus thirsty and in addition they have wounded shins from scraping the ground frequently.
These are the symptoms; for treatment it is important to recognize that this is a type of melancholy, which you may treat at the time the disease is noticed by cutting open the veins and draining blood almost until the patient passes out. Let him be washed in a sweet bath. After rubbing him down with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve to him on the second and third day. Following these cleansings, anoint him with the antidote for viper-venom and do the rest of the things prescribed for melancholy. When the disease has already come over those who are accustomed to sleepwalk, anoint them with lotion. And rub opium on the ears and nostrils of those preparing to sleep.”
Johannes Zacharias Actuarius was also a Byzantine doctor. He composed many works on medicine that drew on Galen, Aëtiusand Paulus—which is clear from his text on lycanthropy. Significant differences from Aëtius’ text are in bold.
De Diagnosi 1.34.24
“A type of this madnessis called lycanthropy—it convinces those so afflicted to go outside in the middle of the night, among the graves and desolate places, like wolves and to return at night, to become themselves again, and to remain at home. But some of them have feet and shins marked up from touching stones and thorns and they have dry eyes and tongue. They are thirsty, and they look weak. I will pass over how much the others suffer—but some of them die after fearing death for long while others desire it fiercely. In the same way, some avoid large groups of people and maintain the strictest silence, while the others, if they are not among a crowd where they remain calm, they make a racket and seem out of their minds. These things happen when some kind of humor is imbalanced, and the place which reddens when it comes to the surface and returns energy to the person’s spirit.”
Anonymi Medici, A Collection of ancient treatises on disease and treatments. Some tracts are dated to the first century CE. There are some textual issues I have only barely tried to solve. The additions and differences seem to imply a text later than Paulus or Aëtius.
“Lycanthropy is a type of madness when people go out at night and spend time among graves. You will recognize those who suffer from it thus. Their skin is pale and they appear weak. They have dry eyes and they neither cry nor produce moisture. You may note that their eyes are hollow and their forehead is damp; they may have an extremely dry tongue and may not completely produce saliva. They are thirsty and they have open wounds on their shins from striking them frequently. Their body bears the particular marks of melancholy sometimes, since this is melancholic in nature, and they have been afflicted [with this] by some thought or sleeplessness, or spoiled food, or contact with birth fluids [?], bloody discharge, or menstrual blood. These are the indications and signs of lycanthropy.
This is how you treat it: I cut the veins at the elbows and I drain blood almost until the patient passes out then treat the sick with well-flavored food. Let him be washed in a sweet bath. After rubbing him down with milk-whey for three days, apply pumpkin salve to him on the second and third day. After running him down with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve to him on the second and third day. After these cleansings, I would anoint him with the antidote for viper-venom and do the rest of the things prescribed for melancholy. In addition, I would suggest draining off any bloody discharge and avoiding any menstrual blood in order to stop the conditions that created the disease. Also commendable is furnishing diuretics and cleaning any pustules.”
As a Homerist, my experience in late Greek prose is limited; my experience in medical terminology is worse. I believe I have made sense of all of this, but I am happy to have suggestions or additions.
τῇ διὰ τῆς κολοκυνθίδος ἱερᾷ: This phrase has given me fits. I at first made the mistake of taking ἱερᾷ to mean something sacred (e.g. rite, but not “shrine”, because that would be neuter!). But the LSJ lists ἱερὰ ἡ: a kind of serpent adding “II. A name for many medicines in the Greek pharmacopia…of a plaster; esp. of aloes.” So, since it does not seem likely that the treatment being prescribed is a “snake through a pumpkin”. In addition, later Greek prose uses dia + genitive to denote the thing from which something was made (LSJ s.v. dia A.III.c.2). So, I have settled on a “pumpkin salve”
τῇ διὰ τῆϲ κολυκυνθίδοϲ ἱερᾷ ῾Ρούφου ἢ ᾿Αρχιγένουϲ ἢ ᾿Ιούϲτου: I have no idea what is going on with the three proper names here: are these places or people that produce the pumpkin poultice?
Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Raphael for sharing this passage on the teleology of the human ass with me. This is mostly for distraction, but it also functions as a timely reminder of some of the absurd conclusions that can arise from teleological thinking.
Aristotle, Parts of Animals 689b
“A human being is has no tail, but does have buttocks although the quadruped does not. A human being also has legs which are fleshy in the thighs and calves, while all the rest of the animals have fleshless legs—and not only those animals which have live births, but as many of the other animals who have legs—and they are covered with sinew, are bony, and full of spines.
There is one explanation, you might say, for these differences and that is that humans are the only animal to stand upright. So, nature removed some of the fleshy parts from above and transferred the weight below in order to make the upper portions of human beings easier to bear. This is why nature made human butts fleshy along with their thighs and their calves. With the same act, it made the nature of the buttocks useful for taking a break.
For it is not a problem for the rest of the quadrupeds and they do not get tired from doing that continually. This is because they have four supports holding them up, it works the same as if they are lying down.But human beings do not easily remain standing upright: our bodies need rest and need to sit down.
This is why a human being has a fleshy butt and thighs and the same reason why we don’t have tails. All the nutrition which heads that way is spent on butts and thighs. The need and use of a tail, moreover, is negated by having butts and thighs. In quadrupeds and the rest of the animals, the situation is the opposite: because they are like dwarfs, all their weight is centered in their upper parts and it is separated from the lower section. For this reason, they have no butt and have hard legs.
Earlier posts examine Hippocratic and Galenic takes on different signs of ‘melancholy’, which is generally the ancient diagnosis that best corresponds to madness or depression. In this letter, Hippocrates seems to describe a manic dedication to one thing paired with other antisocial symptoms.
Hippocrates, Epistles 12
“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 slaves and slavewomen 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.”
“Always be on guard against the matter which is greatest in this, once you choose to honor yourself. For it is possible always to keep at hand the memory of the hideousness of the soul of those who get angry and the beauty of those who are untroubled by rage.
For whoever, thanks to being accustomed to a mistaken behavior over time, has developed a stain of emotions which cannot be washed away, must for as great an amount of time attend to each of those beliefs by which a man might become noble and good, should he heed them. For we lose sight of a thing that falls easily from our minds because they have been previously filled by these emotions.
Therefore this must be pursued by each of those who want to be saved as if there were no proper season for taking it easy; and all of us must turn toward accusing ourselves, and we must listen to [others] gently, not for the sake of castigating them but for shaping them in turn.
Keep the door of your home open all the time and permit those who understand to enter at every opportune moment. If you are prepared in this way, be bold enough to be discovered as overcome by any of the major mistakes by none of those who enter. Just as it is possible to banish a bad feeling for one who is unwilling, it is easy to banish great ones for one who has made this decision.
When your door is open all the time, as I said, then let there be plenty of time for people who understand to enter. As all the other people who enter a public space attempt to act properly, so too act in the same way in your private home. But those who are ashamed before others only because they might be caught, do not feel shame before themselves alone: but you, feel shame before yourself especially, if you follow this precept.”