Medically Mad or Just Thinking Bad? Early Greek on Being Crazy

An ancient distinction between mental maladies with absolutely no relevance to the modern day.

Assemblywomen, 248-253

[First Woman]: But what if Kephalos attacks you with abuse—
How will you response to him in the assembly?

[Praksagora]: I will say he’s out of his mind [paraphronein]

[First Woman]: but everyone knows this!

[Praksagora]: then I will also call him psychopathic [lit. ‘black-biled’=melancholic].

[First Woman]: They know this too.

[Praksagora]: But I will add that he produces terrible ceramics and will then do a fine job of doing the same to the city.

ἀτὰρ ἢν Κέφαλός σοι λοιδορῆται προσφθαρείς,
πῶς ἀντερεῖς πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐν τἠκκλησίᾳ;
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ φήσω παραφρονεῖν αὐτόν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α …ἀλλὰ τοῦτό γε
ἴσασι πάντες.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ ἀλλὰ καὶ μελαγχολᾶν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α καὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἴσασιν.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τρύβλια
κακῶς κεραμεύειν, τὴν δὲ πόλιν εὖ καὶ καλῶς.

Melancholy here contrasts with “thinking -wrongly” (paraphronein). A scholion to another play by Aristophanes glosses the realms of these types of mental maladies (Schol. ad Plut. 11a ex 20-28)

“He seems to say this because he harmed or helped his master through his own virtue more—and while he disturbed him through prophecy, he made him crazy [melankholan] through medicine and took away his ability to think [phronein] through wisdom, which is the art of thinking. The servant lies. For he does not speak the truth….”

…τοῦτο οὖν
ἔοικε λέγειν, ὅτι διὰ τῶν ἑαυτοῦ
μᾶλλον ἀρετῶν ἔβλαψε τὸν δεσπότην
ἤπερ ὠφέλησε, καὶ διὰ μὲν τῆς
μαντείας ἐτάραξε, διὰ δὲ τῆς ἰατρι-
κῆς μελαγχολᾶν ἐποίησε, διὰ δὲ
τῆς σοφίας, ὅ ἐστι τῆς φρονήσεως,
τοῦ φρονεῖν αὐτὸν ἀφείλατο. ψεύδεται
ὁ δοῦλος· οὐ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν λέγει

Where melancholy denotes a physical ailment [i.e. biologically caused and treated], paraphrosunê indicates parafunctionality which may be treated without medicine.

μελαγχολάω: to be atrabilious, melancholy-mad.

μελαγχολία: atrabiliousness, melancholy, a disease [atual LSJ definition]

παραφροσύνη, ἡ:  wandering of mind, derangment, delirium

παραφρονέω: to be beside oneself, be deranged, or mad.

Lyrica Adespota, fr. 3.9-10

“Lust–that magician–takes me. It descends upon my mind
And makes me crazy!”

῎Ερως μ’ ἔλα]β’ ὁ γόης· εἰς τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰσπε-
σὼν [ποιεῖ μ]ε παραφρονεῖν.

Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.1009b

“In the same way, ‘truth’ concerning the way things appear has come to some people from their senses. They believe that it is right that truth should be judged neither by the multitude or the scarcity [of those who believe it]; and they believe that the same thing seems sweet to some who taste it and bitter to others with the result that if all men were sick or if they were all insane and two or three were healthy or in their right mind, wouldn’t it seem that these few were sick and crazy and not the rest?”

[1] —ὅμοιως δὲ καὶ ἡ περὶ τὰ φαινόμενα ἀλήθεια ἐνίοις ἐκ τῶν αἰσθητῶν ἐλήλυθεν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀληθὲς οὐ πλήθει κρίνεσθαι οἴονται προσήκειν οὐδὲ ὀλιγότητι, τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ τοῖς μὲν γλυκὺ γευομένοις δοκεῖν εἶναι τοῖς δὲ πικρόν, ὥστ᾽ εἰ πάντες ἔκαμνον [5] ἢ πάντες παρεφρόνουν, δύο δ᾽ ἢ τρεῖς ὑγίαινον ἢ νοῦν εἶχον, δοκεῖν ἂν τούτους κάμνειν καὶ παραφρονεῖν τοὺς δ᾽ ἄλλους οὔ:

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Why Insanity is Superior. And Some Etymologies.

Socrates is the speaker of this passage which includes some curious assertions about sanity and madness and some adventurous folk etymologies.

Plato Phaedrus 244b-d

“If it were simply the case that insanity is evil, then this would be said truly. But, in truth, the greatest goods come to us from madness when it is given as a divine gift. For the prophet at Delphi and the priestesses at Dodona have completed many fine things for Greece both in public and private, because they were insane. But when they are in their right minds, they have done little or nothing.

And if we speak about the Sibyl and the rest—however many provide prophecy while inspired and by predicting many things for many people have improved their lives—we should clearly be spending a long time describing it all. This is also worthy of acknowledging, that the ancients who gave things names did not belief that madness was shameful or worthy of reproach. For they would not have interwoven this name—mania—with that finest art by which the future is judged.

No, instead, since it is a divine dispensation and because it is noble, they named it according to their belief. These days people call it the mantic art, callously adding a tau. When they name sane people’s investigation of the future through other means like bird omens and similar signs—since they must provide from their own perspective the mind (nous) and inquiry (historia) by means of human thought (oiêsis)—they call it oionoistic thought and make it more reverent by adding an omega as current people do. How much more complete and honorable prophecy is to augury both in name and in its action the ancients assert it is that much superior because madness is divine in origin and sanity is human.”

εἰ μὲν γὰρ ἦν ἁπλοῦν τὸ μανίαν κακὸν εἶναι, καλῶς ἂν ἐλέγετο· νῦν δὲ τὰ μέγιστα τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἡμῖν γίγνεται διὰ μανίας, θείᾳ μέντοι δόσει διδομένης. ἥ τε γὰρ δὴ ἐν Δελφοῖς προφῆτις αἵ τ᾿ ἐν Δωδώνῃ ἱέρειαι μανεῖσαι μὲν πολλὰ δὴ καὶ καλὰ ἰδίᾳ τε καὶ δημοσίᾳ τὴν Ἑλλάδα εἰργάσαντο, σωφρονοῦσαι δὲ βραχέα ἢ οὐδέν· καὶ ἐὰν δὴ λέγωμεν Σίβυλλάν τε καὶ ἄλλους, ὅσοι μαντικῇ χρώμενοι ἐνθέῳ πολλὰ δὴ πολλοῖς προλέγοντες εἰς τὸ μέλλον ὤρθωσαν, μηκύνοιμεν ἂν δῆλα παντὶ λέγοντες· τόδε μὴν ἄξιον ἐπιμαρτύρασθαι, ὅτι καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ τὰ ὀνόματα τιθέμενοι οὐκ αἰσχρὸν ἡγοῦντο οὐδὲ ὄνειδος μανίαν.οὐ γὰρ ἂν τῇ καλλίστῃ τέχνῃ, ᾗ τὸ μέλλον κρίνεται, αὐτὸ τοῦτο τοὔνομα ἐμπλέκοντες μανικὴν ἐκάλεσαν· ἀλλ᾿ ὡς καλοῦ ὄντος, ὅταν θείᾳ μοίρᾳ γίγνηται, οὕτω νομίσαντες ἔθεντο, οἱ δὲ νῦν ἀπειροκάλως τὸ ταῦ ἐπεμβάλλοντες μαντικὴν ἐκάλεσαν. ἐπεὶ καὶ τήν γε τῶν ἐμφρόνων ζήτησιν τοῦ μέλλοντος διά τε ὀρνίθων ποιουμένων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων σημείων, ἅτ᾿ ἐκ διανοίας ποριζομένων ἀνθρωπίνῃ οἰήσει νοῦν τε καὶ ἱστορίαν, οἰονοϊστικὴν ἐπωνόμασαν, ἣν νῦν οἰωνιστικὴν τῷ ω σεμνύνοντες οἱ νέοι καλοῦσιν· ὅσῳ δὴ οὖν τελεώτερον καὶ ἐντιμότερον μαντικὴ οἰωνιστικῆς, τό τε ὄνομα τοῦ ὀνόματος ἔργον τ᾿ ἔργου, τόσῳ κάλλιον μαρτυροῦσιν οἱ παλαιοὶ μανίαν σωφροσύνης τὴν ἐκ θεοῦ τῆς παρ᾿ ἀνθρώπων γιγνομένης.

Image result for Ancient Greek prophecy

The logic here might be a little bewildering, but Socrates/Plato seem to be on t something with the first etymology

Beekes Madness

The Madness of Advising Madmen

A timely reminder that societies can be ill…

Seneca, EM 94 [Quoting Aristo]

“Between this general public insanity and that which is subject to medicine, there is no difference except that the latter is caused by a disease and the former by false beliefs. In the case of a disease, the symptoms of madness come from sickness; the other is a terrible sickness of the mind. If anyone offers arguments to a crazy person—how he should talk, walk, act in public or private—he would be crazier than the very man he intends to advise! The dark bile must be treated and the causes of the madness should be removed. This must be done for the insanity of the mind too—the malady needs to be dispelled. In any other vase, words of warning will disappear into the void.”

“Inter insaniam publicamet hanc, quae medicis traditur, nihil interest nisi quod haec morbo laborat, illa opinionibus falsis. Altera causas furoris traxit ex valitudine, altera animi mala valitudo est. Si quis furioso praecepta det, quomodo loqui debeat, quomodo procedere, quomodo in publico se gerere, quomodo in privato, erit ipso, quem monebit, insanior. Ei bilis nigra curanda est et ipsa furoris causa removenda. Idem in hoc alio animi furore faciendum est. Ipse discuti debet; alioqui abibunt in vanum monentium verba.”

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Seneca in between Plato and Aristotle

Thuc. 1.20.3

“For most people the examination of the truth is so careless that they accept whatever is prepared for them.”

οὕτως ἀταλαίπωρος τοῖς πολλοῖς ἡ ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ἑτοῖμα μᾶλλον τρέπονται.

Pausanias, 1.3.3

“The majority of people repeat many things which are not true, since they know nothing of history and they believe whatever they have heard since childhood in choruses and tragedy. “

λέγεται μὲν δὴ καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ἀληθῆ παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς οἷα ἱστορίας ἀνηκόοις οὖσι καὶ ὁπόσα ἤκουον εὐθὺς ἐκ παίδων ἔν τε χοροῖς καὶ τραγῳδίαις πιστὰ ἡγουμένοις

There is some Tertullian on this too.

Retreat or Resist? Seneca and Plutarch Disagree on Peace of Mind

How do we maintain equanimity in the midst of chaos? It is probably not at all coincidental that I keep turning to authors from the Roman Imperial period for answers….

Seneca, Moral Epistle 94.68-69

“Don’t believe it is possible for anyone to be happy because of someone else’s unhappiness. The these examples placed before our ears and ears, must be taken apart—we have to empty our hearts of the corrupting tales that fill them. Virtue must be introduced into the place they held—a virtue which can uproot these lies and contrafactual ideologies; a virtue which may separate us from the people whom we have trusted too much, to return us to sane beliefs. This is wisdom, truly: to be returned to a prior state and to that place from where public sickness dislodged us. A great part of health is to have rejected the champions of madness and to have abandoned that union which was destructive for everyone involved.”

Non est quod credas quemquam fieri aliena infelicitate felicem. Omnia ista exempla, quae oculis atque auribus nostris ingeruntur, retexenda sunt et plenum malis sermonibus pectus exhauriendum. Inducenda in occupatum locum virtus, quae mendacia et contra verum placentia exstirpet, quae nos a populo, cui nimis credimus, separet ac sinceris opinionibus reddat. Hoc est enim sapientia, in naturam converti et eo restitui,unde publicus error expulerit. Magna pars sanitatis est hortatores insaniae reliquisse et ex isto coitu invicem noxio procul abisse.

Seneca seems to be unfamiliar with schadenfreude (probably because it was a Greek word). Or, perhaps he refuses to acknowledge it as real tranquility. Plutarch may have agreed that Seneca’s prescription was good for attaining ataraxia, but Plutarch does not see it as a efficacious for mental health. 

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of the Mind 465c-d

“The one who said that “it is necessary that someone who would be tranquil avoid doing much both in private and public” makes tranquility extremely pricey for us since its price is doing nothing. This would be like advising a sick man “Wretch, stay unmoving in your sheets” [Eur. Orestes 258.].

And certainly, depriving the body of experience is bad medicine for mental illness. The doctor of the mind is no better who would relieve it of trouble and pain through laziness, softness and the betrayal of friends, relatives and country. Therefore, it is also a lie that tranquility comes to those who don’t do much. For it would be necessary for women to be more tranquil than men since they do most everything at home….”

Ὁ μὲν οὖν εἰπὼν ὅτι “δεῖ τὸν εὐθυμεῖσθαι μέλλοντα μὴ πολλὰ πρήσσειν μήτε ἰδίῃ μήτε ξυνῇ,” πρῶτον μὲν ἡμῖν πολυτελῆ τὴν εὐθυμίαν καθίστησι, γινομένην ὤνιον ἀπραξίας· οἷον ἀρρώστῳ παραινῶν ἑκάστῳ
μέν᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, ἀτρέμα σοῖς ἐν δεμνίοις.
καίτοι κακὸν μὲν ἀναισθησία σώματος φάρμακον ἀπονοίας· οὐδὲν δὲ βελτίων ψυχῆς ἰατρὸς ὁ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ μαλακίᾳ καὶ προδοσίᾳ φίλων καὶ οἰκείων καὶ πατρίδος ἐξαιρῶν τὸ ταραχῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ λυπηρόν.
Ἔπειτα καὶ ψεῦδός ἐστι τὸ εὐθυμεῖν τοὺς μὴ πολλὰ πράσσοντας. ἔδει γὰρ εὐθυμοτέρας εἶναι γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν οἰκουρίᾳ τὰ πολλὰ συνούσας·

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Our Blindness to Sicknesses of the Mind

 

Plutarch, Whether Afflictions of the Spirit or Body Are Worse, 501a-b

 

“To start, doctors want a person not to be ill and then, if he is ill, not to be ignorant of it. This is how it is also for diseases that affect the mind. For, men do not seem to know when they are doing wrong when they act stupidly, engage in vice, or commit injustice—some even think they are doing right. For, even though no one ever claimed that a fever was healthy or that consumption was being in good shape or that gout was being swift-footed or that jaundice was a youthful complexion, many have called a bad temper “manliness”, they have called lust “friendship”, envy “admiration”, and cowardice, “patience”.

While those who sense that they need something for what is ailing them call doctors, the others avoid philosophers because they think they are doing fine in the very matters they are messing up. Maintaining this logic, we would claim that defective eyesight is worse than madness and that gout is worse than a swollen brain!”

 

διὸ παῖδες ἰατρῶν βούλονται μὲν μὴ νοσεῖν τὸν ἄνθρωπον, νοσοῦντα δὲ μὴ ἀγνοεῖν ὅτι νοσεῖ· ὃ τοῖς ψυχικοῖς πάθεσι πᾶσι συμβέβηκεν. οὔτε γὰρ ἀφραίνοντες οὔτ’ ἀσελγαίνοντες οὔτ’ ἀδικοπραγοῦντες ἁμαρτάνειν δοκοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἔνιοι καὶ κατορθοῦν. πυρετὸν μὲν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὑγίειαν ὠνόμασεν οὐδὲ φθίσιν εὐεξίαν οὐδὲ ποδάγραν ποδώκειαν οὐδ’ ὠχρίασιν ἐρύθημα, θυμὸν δὲ πολλοὶ καλοῦσιν ἀνδρείαν καὶ ἔρωτα φιλίαν καὶ φθόνον ἅμιλλαν καὶ δειλίαν ἀσφάλειαν. εἶθ’ οἱ μὲν καλοῦσι τοὺς ἰατροὺς (αἰσθάνονται γὰρ ὧν δέονται πρὸς ἃ νοσοῦσιν), οἱ δὲ φεύγουσι τοὺς φιλοσόφους, οἴονται γὰρ ἐπιτυγχάνειν ἐν οἷς διαμαρτάνουσιν. ἐπεὶ τούτῳ γε τῷ λόγῳ χρώμενοι λέγομεν, ὅτι κουφότερόν ἐστιν ὀφθαλμία μανίας καὶ ποδάγρα φρενίτιδος·

Mile-By-Mile Quotes for a Marathon

 

Sentantiae Antiquae is running a Marathon today (For real, Rock N’ Roll San Antonio). Here’s a quote for every mile.

 

Mile 1: Feeling Irrational Noble Thoughts

 

Hesiod Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν

ἀθάνατοι·

 

Actual Shirt Worn During Marathon

Actual Shirt Worn During Marathon Last Year

 

Mile 2: Positive Feelings Continue

 

Horace, Epistles 1.4.12-14

“Amidst hope and anxiety, fear and rage, believe that every day has risen as your last: pleasant is the arrival of the hour which was never expected”.

inter spem curamque, timores inter et iras omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum: grata superveniet quae non sperabitur hora

 

Mile 3: When I try to Check Myself

Plutarch, Agesilaos 2.2

“His weakness made his desire for glory manifest: he would refuse no labor and shirk no deed.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν φιλοτιμίαν ἐκδηλοτέραν ἐποίει, πρὸς μηδένα πόνον μηδὲ πρᾶξιν ἀπαγορεύοντος αὐτοῦ διὰ τὴν χωλότητα.


Mile 4: Self-Righteous Thoughts Get Delirious

Cicero, Pro Sestio 143

“Let us spurn the rewards of today and look to future glory; let us deem best what is most honorable; let us hope for what we want, but bear what befalls us; finally, let us consider that even the bodies of brave men and great citizens are mortal; but that activity of the mind and the glory of virtue are forever.”

praesentis fructus neglegamus, posteritatis gloriae serviamus; id esse optimum putemus quod erit rectissimum; speremus quae volumus, sed quod acciderit feramus; cogitemus denique corpus virorum fortium magnorum hominum esse mortale, animi vero motus et virtutis gloriam sempiternam

Mile 5: When I start to Make Jokes to Myself about Pheidippides

Lucian, On Mistakes in Greeting

“After saying ‘hello’ he died with his greeting a gasped out a final farewell”

καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν συναποθανεῖν τῇ ἀγγελίᾳ καὶ τῷ χαίρειν συνεκπνεῦσαι

Continue reading

Tibullus, Elegies Book 1, 10: 33-44: Life is Short Enough, War is F***ing Crazy

“What insanity is it to hurry dark death along with wars?
It is already imminent, coming secretly with a quiet foot.
There aren’t any fields below nor cultured vines, but only
Bold Cerberus and the foul boatman beside Stygian waters.
There with crushed eyes and burned hair
A pale crowd wanders toward murky lakes.
Instead, we should praise the man whom old age finds
In his small stocked house once his children are prepared.
He follows his sheep as his son cares for the lambs
And his wife heats cold water for the tired man.
May I be like him; may the hair on my head grow grey
As I recall the good old days in the way of an elderly man.”

Quis furor est atram bellis accersere mortem?
Inminet et tacito clam venit illa pede.
Non seges est infra, non vinea culta, sed audax 35
Cerberus et Stygiae navita turpis aquae;
Illic percussisque genis ustoque capillo
Errat ad obscuros pallida turba lacus.
Quam potius laudandus hic est, quem prole parata
Occupat in parva pigra senecta casa. 40
Ipse suas sectatur oves, at filius agnos,
Et calidam fesso conparat uxor aquam.
Sic ego sim, liceatque caput candescere canis,
Temporis et prisci facta referre senem.

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