Myth: Shaping Our Minds Through Pleasure and Fear

Strabo, Geography 1.2.8

“For every illiterate and uneducated person is in some way a child and delights in the same way in stories—similar as well is the case of a person educated moderately. For this person is not ruled by reason, and this is the custom from childhood. Since the marvelous is not only sweet but also frightening, there is a need for both types for children and those in the next age. We use the sweet stories to encourage children and the the frightening ones to discourage them. The Lamia, for example, is a story like this, as is that of Ephialtes and Mormolukê.

Many of those who live in cities are compelled toward certain action by incitements of myths when they hear the poets praising the mythical courageous deeds—the deeds of Herakles or Theseus—or the honors accorded from the gods or when they see Zeus in a picture, or cult image, or images signaling the mythical tale in some way. To discourage them, they have tales whenever there are punishments from the gods and fears or threats or things they have received through some tale or unexpected punishment even if they believe it has happened to other people.

For it is not possible to persuade the mass of women and every kind of common person by reason with philosophy and to encourage them to piety, and righteousness, and fidelity; but it is necessary to do this through fear. And that is not [possible] without myth-making and wonder. For the lighting, aegis, trident, torches, dragons, thyrsis-shaking, weapons of the gods, the myths and all the ancient theology, these are all things those who found states use as bogeymen for childish minds.

This was myth-making and it was a good support for the commonwealth and the political arrangement of life and the inquiry of the way things really are; the ancients pursued their childhood’s education into their later years and they supposed that every age could become sufficiently prudent through poetry. In later years, the writing of history and then philosophy entered our consciousness. But these work only for the few; poetry is more useful to the public and can fill the theaters. The poetry of Homer supersedes: but the first historians and natural philosophers were myth-makers as well.”

καὶ ἰδιώτης δὲ πᾶς καὶ ἀπαίδευτος τρόπον τινὰ παῖς ἐστι φιλομυθεῖ τε ὡσαύτως: ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ πεπαιδευμένος μετρίως: οὐδὲ γὰρ οὗτος ἰσχύει τῷ λογισμῷ, πρόσεστι δὲ καὶ τὸ ἐκ παιδὸς ἔθος. ἐπεὶ δ᾽ οὐ μόνον ἡδὺ ἀλλὰ καὶ φοβερὸν τὸ τερατῶδες, ἀμφοτέρων ἐστὶ τῶν εἰδῶν χρεία πρός τε τοὺς παῖδας καὶ τοὺς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ: τοῖς τε γὰρ παισὶ προσφέρομεν τοὺς ἡδεῖς μύθους εἰς προτροπήν, εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δὲ τοὺς φοβερούς: ἥ τε γὰρ Λάμια μῦθός ἐστι καὶ ἡ Γοργὼ καὶ ὁ Ἐφιάλτης καὶ ἡ Μορμολύκη.

οἵ τε πολλοὶ τῶν τὰς πόλεις οἰκούντων εἰς μὲν προτροπὴν ἄγονται τοῖς ἡδέσι τῶν μύθων, ὅταν ἀκούωσι τῶν ποιητῶν ἀνδραγαθήματα μυθώδη διηγουμένων, οἷον Ἡρακλέους ἄθλους ἢ Θησέως, ἢ τιμὰς παρὰ θεῶν νεμομένας, ἢ νὴ Δία ὁρῶσι γραφὰς ἢ ξόανα ἢ πλάσματα τοιαύτην τινὰ περιπέτειαν ὑποσημαίνοντα μυθώδη: εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δέ, ὅταν κολάσεις παρὰ θεῶν καὶ φόβους καὶ ἀπειλὰς ἢ διὰ λόγων ἢ διὰ τύπων ἀοράτων τινῶν προσδέχωνται, ἢ καὶ πιστεύωσι περιπεσεῖν τινας.

οὐ γὰρ ὄχλον γε γυναικῶν καὶ παντὸς χυδαίου πλήθους ἐπαγαγεῖν λόγῳ δυνατὸν φιλοσόφῳ καὶ προσκαλέσασθαι πρὸς εὐσέβειαν καὶ ὁσιότητα καὶ πίστιν, ἀλλὰ δεῖ καὶ διὰ δεισιδαιμονίας: τοῦτο δ᾽ οὐκ ἄνευ μυθοποιίας καὶ τερατείας. κεραυνὸς γὰρ καὶ αἰγὶς καὶ τρίαινα καὶ λαμπάδες καὶ δράκοντες καὶ θυρσόλογχα τῶν θεῶν ὅπλα μῦθοι καὶ πᾶσα θεολογία ἀρχαϊκή: ταῦτα δ᾽ ἀπεδέξαντο οἱ τὰς πολιτείας καταστησάμενοι μορμολύκας τινὰς πρὸς τοὺς νηπιόφρονας.

τοιαύτης δὲ τῆς μυθοποιίας οὔσης καὶ καταστρεφούσης εἰς τὸ κοινωνικὸν καὶ τὸ πολιτικὸν τοῦ βίου σχῆμα καὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων ἱστορίαν, οἱ μὲν ἀρχαῖοι τὴν παιδικὴν ἀγωγὴν ἐφύλαξαν μέχρι τῶν τελείων ἡλικιῶν, καὶ διὰ ποιητικῆς ἱκανῶς σωφρονίζεσθαι πᾶσαν ἡλικίαν ὑπέλαβον: χρόνοις δ᾽ ὕστερον ἡ τῆς ἱστορίας γραφὴ καὶ ἡ νῦν φιλοσοφία παρελήλυθεν εἰς μέσον. αὕτη μὲν οὖν πρὸς ὀλίγους, ἡ δὲ ποιητικὴ δημωφελεστέρα καὶ θέατρα πληροῦν δυναμένη, ἡ δὲ δὴ τοῦ Ὁμήρου ὑπερβαλλόντως: καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι δὲ ἱστορικοὶ καὶ φυσικοὶ μυθογράφοι.

Medusa Bernini 1638/1648

Bernini’s Medusa

Let Poets Be Our Teachers

Strabo Geography 1.2.3

“[Eratosthenes] said that the poet arranges everything for delighting the mind and not for education. Quite the opposite—ancients used to say that poetry was the first philosophy which integrates us into life from youth and teaches our characters, informs our experiences, and our actions in a pleasurable way.

The scholars of our day claim that the poet is the only wise person. For this reason too, the cities of Greece educate their children at the earliest stages through poetry, not only of course for the sake of entertaining them, but for nurturing wisdom as well. Indeed, for this reason too, music teachers who instruct those who play strings, lyre, and pipes help to shape their character. For these teachers say that they are also reformers of their ways. It is not only common to hear Pythagoreans making such claims, but even Aristoxenos asserts this, and Homer said that the singers were the wisest people of his day.”

Ποιητὴν γὰρ ἔφη πάντα στοχάζεσθαι ψυχαγωγίας, οὐ διδασκαλίας. τοὐναντίον δ’ οἱ παλαιοὶ φιλοσοφίαν τινὰ λέγουσι πρώτην τὴν ποιητικήν, εἰσάγουσαν εἰς τὸν βίον ἡμᾶς ἐκ νέων καὶ διδάσκουσαν ἤθη καὶ πάθη καὶ πράξεις μεθ’ ἡδονῆς· οἱ δ’ ἡμέτεροι καὶ μόνον ποιητὴν ἔφασαν εἶναι τὸν σοφόν. διὰ τοῦτο καὶ τοὺς παῖδας αἱ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων πόλεις πρώτιστα διὰ τῆς ποιητικῆς παιδεύουσιν, οὐ ψυχαγωγίας χάριν δήπουθεν ψιλῆς, ἀλλὰ σωφρονισμοῦ· ὅπου γε καὶ οἱ μουσικοὶ ψάλλειν καὶ λυρίζειν καὶ αὐλεῖν διδάσκοντες μεταποιοῦνται τῆς ἀρετῆς ταύτης· παιδευτικοὶ γὰρ εἶναί φασι καὶ ἐπανορθωτικοὶ τῶν ἠθῶν. ταῦτα δ’ οὐ μόνον παρὰ τῶν Πυθαγορείων ἀκούειν ἐστὶ λεγόντων, ἀλλὰ καὶ ᾿Αριστόξενος οὕτως ἀποφαίνεται. καὶ ῞Ομηρος δὲ τοὺς ἀοιδοὺς σωφρονιστὰς εἴρηκε.

Later

“But the nature of the poet is yoked to that of the human being—therefore, one cannot be a good poet unless first established as a good person.”

ἡ δὲ ποιητοῦ συνέζευκται τῇ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, καὶ οὐχ οἷόν τε ἀγαθὸν γενέσθαι ποιητὴν μὴ πρότερον γενηθέντα ἄνδρα ἀγαθόν.

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschalk. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Meals At the Public Expense

Isocrates, Panegyricus 1

“I am often amazed that when men first summoned the great gatherings and established athletic contests they believed the accomplishments of the body to be worth great gifts, but for those who have toiled in private for the public good and who have prepared their minds so they may help others, they have apportioned no honor even though it is right to plan for this. If athletes were to double their strength, it would be nothing more to the rest of us; but when one man advises well, all men who are willing to share his insight can benefit.”

Πολλάκις ἐθαύμασα τῶν τὰς πανηγύρεις συναγαγόντων καὶ τοὺς γυμνικοὺς ἀγῶνας καταστησάντων, ὅτι τὰς μὲν τῶν σωμάτων εὐτυχίας οὕτω μεγάλων δωρεῶν ἠξίωσαν, τοῖς δ’ ὑπὲρ τῶν κοινῶν ἰδίᾳ πονήσασι καὶ τὰς αὑτῶν ψυχὰς οὕτω παρασκευάσασιν ὥστε καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ὠφελεῖν δύνασθαι, τούτοις δ’ οὐδεμίαν τιμὴν ἀπένειμαν, ὧν εἰκὸς ἦν αὐτοὺς μᾶλλον ποιήσασθαι πρόνοιαν· τῶν μὲν γὰρ ἀθλητῶν δὶς τοσαύτην ῥώμην λαβόντων οὐδὲν ἂν πλέον γένοιτο τοῖς ἄλλοις, ἑνὸς δ’ ἀνδρὸς εὖ φρονήσαντος ἅπαντες ἂν ἀπολαύσειαν οἱ βουλόμενοι κοινωνεῖν τῆς ἐκείνου διανοίας.

The contrast between the effect of a wise-advisor and an Olympic champion is also invoked by Socrates:

Plato, Apology 36   

“What is right to give to a poor man who has done good work and needs the time to advise you? Athenian men, there is nothing more appropriate than feeding this sort of man at the public expense, more rightly than if one of you has achieved a victory on horseback or chariot races in the Olympian games. The first makes you seem to be fortunate, while I do it for real. He lacks no resources, but I do. If I must be honored justly for my worth, I merit this, meals at the public expense.”

τί οὖν πρέπει ἀνδρὶ πένητι εὐεργέτῃ δεομένῳ ἄγειν σχολὴν ἐπὶ τῇ ὑμετέρᾳ παρακελεύσει; οὐκ ἔσθ’ ὅτι μᾶλλον, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, πρέπει οὕτως ὡς τὸν τοιοῦτον ἄνδρα ἐν πρυτανείῳ σιτεῖσθαι, πολύ γε μᾶλλον ἢ εἴ τις ὑμῶν ἵππῳ ἢ συνωρίδι ἢ ζεύγει νενίκηκεν ᾿Ολυμπίασιν· ὁ μὲν γὰρ ὑμᾶς ποιεῖ εὐδαίμονας δοκεῖν εἶναι, ἐγὼ δὲ εἶναι, καὶ ὁ μὲν τροφῆς οὐδὲν δεῖται, ἐγὼ δὲ δέομαι. εἰ οὖν δεῖ με κατὰ τὸ δίκαιον τῆς ἀξίας τιμᾶσθαι, τούτου τιμῶμαι, ἐν πρυτανείῳ σιτήσεως.

Image result for Ancient Greek Athletics

Euripides, fr. 282 (Autolycos)

“Of the endless evils plaguing Greece
None is worse than the race of athletes.”

κακῶν γὰρ ὄντων μυρίων καθ’ ῾Ελλάδα
οὐδὲν κάκιόν ἐστιν ἀθλητῶν γένους·

Anarchasis the Scythian, Diogenes Laertius 1.8 103-105

Οὗτος τὴν ἄμπελον εἶπε τρεῖς φέρειν βότρυς: τὸν πρῶτον ἡδονῆς: τὸν δεύτερον μέθης: τὸν τρίτον ἀνδίας. θαυμάζειν δὲ ἔφη πῶς παρὰ τοῖς Ἕλλησιν ἀγωνίζονται μὲν οἱ τεχνῖται, κρίνουσι δὲ οἱ μὴ τεχνῖται. ἐρωτηθεὶς πῶς οὐκ ἂν γένοιτό τις φιλοπότης, “εἰ πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν,” εἶπεν, “ἔχοι τὰς τῶν μεθυόντων ἀσχημοσύνας.” θαυμάζειν τε ἔλεγε πῶς οἱ Ἕλληνες νομοθετοῦντες κατὰ τῶν ὑβριζόντων, τοὺς ἀθλητὰς τιμῶσιν ἐπὶ τῷ τύπτεινἀλλήλους. μαθὼν τέτταρας δακτύλους εἶναι τὸ πάχος τῆς νεώς, τοσοῦτον ἔφη τοῦ θανάτου τοὺς πλέοντας ἀπέχειν.

“He said that the vine bears three grapes: pleasure, inebriation, and disgust. He said that he was surprised how among the Greeks experts competed and amateurs judged them. When he asked how someone could avoid being a drunk, he said “if you keep the shame of drunks before you.” He also used to say that he was surprised how the Greeks make laws against arrogance when they honor athletes for hitting each other. When he learned that a ship’s side was four-fingers thick, he said that the sailors were only that far from death.

Xenophon Memorabilia, 3.5.14

“I think that just as certain Athletes lose ground to their opponents after they have won with too much ease, so too the Athenians have become worse because they stopped caring for themselves.”

᾿Εγὼ μέν, ἔφη, οἶμαι, ὁ Σωκράτης, ὥσπερ καὶ ἀθληταί τινες διὰ τὸ πολὺ ὑπερενεγκεῖν καὶ κρατιστεῦσαι καταρρᾳθυμήσαντες ὑστερίζουσι τῶν ἀντιπάλων, οὕτω καὶ ᾿Αθηναίους πολὺ διενεγκόντας ἀμελῆσαι ἑαυτῶν καὶ διὰτοῦτο χείρους γεγονέναι.

Everything Comes from the Brain

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.”

 Εἰδέναι δὲ χρὴ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ὅτι ἐξ οὐδενὸς ἡμῖν αἱ ἡδοναὶ γίνονται καὶ αἱ εὐφροσύναι καὶ γέλωτες καὶ παιδιαὶ ἢ ἐντεῦθεν καὶ λῦπαι καὶ ἀνίαι καὶ δυσφροσύναι καὶ κλαυθμοί. Καὶ τούτῳ φρονεῦμεν μάλιστα καὶ νοεῦμεν καὶ βλέπομεν καὶ ἀκούομεν καὶ γινώσκομεν τά τε αἰσχρὰ καὶ τὰ καλὰ καὶ τὰ κακὰ καὶ ἀγαθὰ καὶ ἡδέα καὶ ἀηδέα, τὰ μὲν νόμῳ διακρίνοντες, τὰ δὲ τῷ ξυμφέροντι αἰσθανόμενοι, τῷ δὲ καὶ τὰς ἡδονὰς καὶ τὰς ἀηδίας τοῖσι καιροῖσι διαγινώσκοντες, καὶ οὐ ταὐτὰ ἀρέσκει ἡμῖν. Τῷ δὲ αὐτῷ τούτῳ καὶ μαινόμεθα καὶ παραφρονέομεν, καὶ δείματα καὶ φόβοι παρίστανται ἡμῖν τὰ μὲν νύκτωρ, τὰ δὲ μεθ’ ἡμέρην, καὶ ἐνύπνια καὶ πλάνοι ἄκαιροι, καὶ φροντίδες οὐχ ἱκνεύμεναι, καὶ ἀγνωσίη τῶν καθεστεώτων καὶ ἀηθίη καὶ ἀπειρίη. Καὶ ταῦτα πάσχομεν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐγκεφάλου πάντα, ὅταν οὗτος μὴ ὑγιαίνῃ, ἀλλ’ ἢ θερμότερος τῆς φύσιος γένηται ἢ ψυχρότερος ἢ ὑγρότερος ἢ ξηρότερος, ἤ τι ἄλλο πεπόνθῃ πάθος παρὰ τὴν φύσιν ὃ μὴ ἐώθει. Καὶ μαινόμεθα μὲν ὑπὸ ὑγρότητος· ὅταν γὰρ ὑγρότερος τῆς φύσιος ᾖ, ἀνάγκη κινεῖσθαι, κινευμένου δὲ μήτε τὴν ὄψιν ἀτρεμίζειν μήτε τὴν ἀκοήν, ἀλλ᾿ ἄλλοτε ἄλλα ὁρᾶν καὶ ἀκούειν, τήν τε γλῶσσαν τοιαῦτα διαλέγεσθαι οἷα ἂν βλέπῃ τε καὶ ἀκούῃ ἑκάστοτε· ὅσον δ᾿ ἂν ἀτρεμήσῃ ὁ ἐγκέφαλος χρόνον, τοσοῦτον καὶ φρονεῖ ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

On the Sacred Disease, 9

“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.”

Κατὰ ταῦτα νομίζω τὸν ἐγκέφαλον δυναμιν ἔχειν πλείστην ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ· οὗτος γὰρ ἡμῖν ἐστι τῶν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἠέρος γινομένων ἑρμηνεύς, ἢν ὑγιαίνων τυγχάνῃ· τὴν δὲ φρόνησιν ὁ ἀὴρ παρέχεται. οἱ δὲ ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ τὰ ὦτα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες καὶ οἱ πόδες οἷα ἂν ὁ ἐγκέφαλος γινώσκῃ, τοιαῦτα πρήσσουσι·† γίνεται γὰρ ἐν ἅπαντι τῷ σώματι τῆς φρονήσιος, ὡςἂν μετέχῃ τοῦ ἠέρος.† ἐς δὲ τὴν σύνεσιν ὁ ἐγκέφαλός ἐστιν ὁ διαγγέλλων· ὅταν γὰρ σπάσῃ τὸ πνεῦμα ὥνθρωπος ἐς ἑωυτόν, ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον πρῶτον ἀφικνεῖται, καὶ οὕτως ἐς τὸ λοιπὸν σῶμα σκίδναται ὁ ἀήρ, καταλελοιπὼς ἐν τῷ ἐγκεφάλῳ ἑωυτοῦ τὴν ἀκμὴν καὶ ὅ τι ἂν ᾖ φρόνιμόν τε καὶ γνώμην ἔχον· εἰ γὰρ ἐς τὸ σῶμα πρῶτον ἀφικνεῖτο καὶ ὕστερον ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον, ἐν τῇσι σαρξὶ καὶ ἐν τῇσι φλεψὶ καταλελοιπὼς τὴν διάγνωσιν ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον ἂν ἴοιθερμὸς ἐὼν καὶ οὐκ ἀκραιφνής, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπιμεμιγμένος τῇ ἰκμάδι τῇ ἀπό τε τῶν σαρκῶν καὶ τοῦ αἵματος, ὥστε μηκέτι εἶναι ἀκριβής.

Image result for ancient greek medicine hippocrates of cos

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 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.

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.

The Power of the Cold

Some sophistic considerations from Plutarch

 

On The Principle of Cold (Moralia 945)

“Is there truly some power of the cold, Favorinus, a principle and substantial thing, just as fire is the principle power of heat, by the presence of and through sharing of which each thing becomes cold? Or is coldness the subtraction of warmth just as people say that darkness is bereavement of life and stillness the absence of movement? Cold does seem to be still while warm has movement while the cooling of higher temperatures occurs by no presence of a force but instead thanks to the separation of heat. For heat appears to leave at the very same time that the rest of a substance cools. And steam, which water emits as it boils, escapes with the passing of the warmth. For this reason the larger amount loses mass when it cools as it loses the heat and nothing else replaces it.

As a starting point, shouldn’t someone be suspicious of this argument that it denies many types of forces by defining them not as characteristics or aspects but instead as the opposite of aspects and characteristics—for example, weight is the negation of lightness, hardness the absence of softness, black the opposite of whiteness, bitter of sweet, and of these rest of matters each develops an opposite force rather than mere negation….”

  1. Ἔστι τις ἄρα τοῦ ψυχροῦ δύναμις, ὦ Φαβωρῖνε, πρώτη καὶ οὐσία, καθάπερ τοῦ θερμοῦ τὸ πῦρ, ἧς παρουσίᾳ τινὶ καὶ μετοχῇ γίνεται τῶν ἄλλων ἕκαστον ψυχρόν· ἢ μᾶλλον ἡ ψυχρότης στέρησίς ἐστι θερμότητος, ὥσπερ τοῦ φωτὸς τὸ σκότος λέγουσι καὶ τῆς κινήσεως τὴν στάσιν; ἐπεὶ καὶ τὸ ψυχρὸν ἔοικε στάσιμον εἶναι, κινητικὸν δὲ τὸ θερμόν· αἵ τε τῶν θερμῶν καταψύξεις οὐδεμιᾶς παρουσίᾳ γίνονται δυνάμεως, ἀλλ᾿ ἐκστάσει θερμότητος· ἅμα γὰρ ἀπιοῦσ᾿ ὅλη2φαίνεται καὶ ψύχεται τὸ ὑπολειπόμενον· ὁ γὰρ ἀτμός, ὃν τὰ ζέοντα τῶν ὑδάτων μεθίησιν, ἀπιόντι τῷ θερμῷ συνεκπίπτει· διὸ καὶ μειοῖ τὸ πλῆθος ἡ περίψυξις ἐκκρίνουσα τὸ θερμόν, ἑτέρου μηδενὸς ἐπεισιόντος.
  2. Ἤ πρῶτον μὲν ἄν τις ὑπίδοιτο τοῦ λόγου τούτου τὸ πολλὰς τῶν ἐμφανῶν ἀναιρεῖν δυνάμεων, ὡς οὐ ποιότητας οὐδ᾿ ἕξεις, ἕξεων δὲ καὶ ποιοτήτων στερήσεις οὔσας,3βαρύτητα μὲν κουφότητος καὶ σκληρότητα μαλακότητος, τὸ μέλαν δὲ τοῦ λευκοῦ καὶ τὸ πικρὸν τοῦ γλυκέος, καὶ ὧν ἕκαστον ἑκάστῳ πέφυκεν ἀντικεῖσθαι κατὰ δύναμιν, οὐχ ὡς ἕξει στέρησις·

    Image result for ancient greek and roman cold

    Not dressed for this weather

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