Searching For the Land of Truth Inside Oneself

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.”

῎Ελθοιμεν δ’ ἂν αἰσίῃ τύχῃ, καὶ ἀφιξόμεθα ὡς ὑπολαμβάνομεν χρηστοτέρῃσιν ἐλπίσιν [ἢ] ὡς ἐν τῇ γραφῇ παραδεδήλωται, οὐ μανίην ἀλλὰ ψυχῆς τινὰ ῥῶσιν ὑπερβάλλουσαν διασαφηνέοντος τοῦ ἀνδρὸς, μήτε παίδων μήτε γυναικὸς μήτε ξυγγενέων μήτε οὐσίης μήτε τινὸς ὅλως ἐν φροντίδι ἐόντος, ἡμέρην δὲ καὶ εὐφρόνην πρὸς ἑωυτῷ καθεστεῶτος καὶ ἰδιάζοντος, τὰ μὲν πολλὰ ἐν

ἄντροισι καὶ ἐρημίῃσιν ἢ ἐν ὑποσκιάσεσι δενδρέων, ἢ ἐν μαλθακῇσι ποίῃσιν, ἢ παρὰ συχνοῖσιν ὑδάτων ῥείθροισιν. Συμβαίνει μὲν οὖν τὰ πολλὰ τοῖσι μελαγχολῶσι τὰ τοιαῦτα· σιγηροί τε γὰρ ἐνίοτε εἰσὶ καὶ μονήρεες, καὶ φιλέρημοι τυγχάνουσιν· ἀπανθρωπέονταί τε ξύμφυλον ὄψιν ἀλλοτρίην νομίζοντες· οὐκ ἀπεοικὸς δὲ καὶ τοῖσι περὶ παιδείην ἐσπουδακόσι τὰς ἄλλας φροντίδας ὑπὸ μιῆς τῆς ἐν σοφίῃ διαθέσιος σεσοβῆσθαι.

῞Ωσπερ γὰρ δμῶές τε καὶ δμωΐδες ἐν τῇσιν οἰκίῃσι θορυβέοντες καὶ στασιάζοντες, ὁκόταν ἐξαπιναίως αὐτοῖσιν ἡ δέσποινα ἐπιστῇ, πτοηθέντες ἀφησυχάζουσι, παραπλησίως καὶ αἱ λοιπαὶ κατὰ ψυχὴν ἐπιθυμίαι ἀνθρώποισι κακῶν ὑπηρέτιδες· ἐπὴν δὲ σοφίης ὄψις ἑωυτέην ἐπιστήσῃ, ὡς δοῦλα τὰ λοιπὰ πάθεα ἐκκεχώρηκεν.

Ποθέουσι δ’ ἄντρα καὶ ἡσυχίην οὐ πάν- τως οἱ μανέντες, ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων πρηγμάτων ὑπερφρονήσαντες ἀταραξίης ἐπιθυμίῃ· ὁκόταν γὰρ ὁ νοῦς ὑπὸ τῶν ἔξω φροντίδων κοπτόμενος ἀναπαῦσαι θελήσῃ τὸ σῶμα, τότε ταχέως ἐς ἡσυχίην μετήλλαξεν, εἶτα ἀναστὰς ὄρθριος ἐν ἑωυτῷ περιεσκόπει κύκλῳ χωρίον ἀληθείης, ἐν ᾧ οὐ πατὴρ, οὐ μήτηρ, οὐ γυνὴ, οὐ τέκνα, οὐ κασίγνητος, οὐ ξυγγενέες, οὐ δμῶες, οὐ τύχη, οὐχ ὅλως οὐδὲν τῶν θόρυβον ἐμποιησάντων·

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Medieval Manuscript Images, Pierpont Morgan Library, Hours of Anne of France. MS M.677 fol. 211r

A Happy Side of Madness

Aristotle, On Amazing Things Heard 832b

“The story goes that in Abydos there was a man who was afflicted with madness. He went into the theater and watched for many days as if there were actually people acting and applauded. When he had a respite from his affliction, he said that this was the most enjoyable time of his life.”

Λέγεται δέ τινα ἐν Ἀβύδῳ παρακόψαντα τῇ διανοίᾳ καὶ εἰς τὸ θέατρον ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ πολλὰς ἡμέρας θεωρεῖν, ὡς ὑποκρινομένων τινῶν, καὶ ἐπισημαίνεσθαι· καὶ ὡς κατέστη τῆς παρακοπῆς, ἔφησεν ἐκεῖνον αὑτῷ τὸν χρόνον ἥδιστα βεβιῶσθαι.

This made me think of Thrasyllos again.

Aelian, 4.25

“Thrasyllos from the deme Aiksône endured an incredible and novel madness. For he left the city and went to the Peiraia and stayed there. He believed that all the ships that sailed in were his and he wrote down their names, checked the list when they left and rejoiced when they returned safely to the harbor again. He spent many years living with this sickness.

When his brother returned from Sicily, he took him to a doctor for treatment and he freed him from that sickness. But he often remembered the avocation of his sickness and used to say that he was never as happy as when he took pleasure at the sight of ships that weren’t his returning safely.”

Θράσυλλος ὁ Αἰξωνεὺς παράδοξον καὶ καινὴν ἐνόσησε μανίαν. ἀπολιπὼν γὰρ τὸ ἄστυ καὶ κατελθὼν ἐς τὸν Πειραιᾶ καὶ ἐνταῦθα οἰκῶν τὰ πλοῖα τὰ καταίροντα ἐν αὐτῷ πάντα ἑαυτοῦ ἐνόμιζεν εἶναι, καὶ ἀπεγράφετο αὐτὰ καὶ αὖ πάλιν ἐξέπεμπε καὶ τοῖς περισωζομένοις καὶ ἐσιοῦσιν ἐς τὸν λιμένα ὑπερέχαιρε· χρόνους δὲ διετέλεσε πολλοὺς συνοικῶν τῷ ἀρρωστήματι τούτῳ. ἐκ Σικελίας δὲ ἀναχθεὶς ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ παρέδωκεν αὐτὸν ἰατρῷ ἰάσασθαι, καὶ ἔπαυσεν αὐτὸν τῆς νόσου οὗτος. ἐμέμνητο δὲ πολλάκις τῆς ἐν μανίᾳ διατριβῆς, καὶ ἔλεγε μηδέποτε ἡσθῆναι τοσοῦτον, ὅσον τότε ἥδετο ἐπὶ ταῖς μηδὲν αὐτῷ προσηκούσαις ναυσὶν

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Bodleian 264

Horace’s Minor Madness

Horace, Epistles 2.118-125

“This mistake, this minor madness, still possesses
This many advantages—consider them. The poet is
Not one with a greedy heart. He loves his lines, and desires
This alone. He mocks lost money, the flight of slaves and fires
There’s no thought of fraud against his friend or his ward
He lives as well as thin gruel and dry bread can afford.
Although he’s slow and a bad soldier, he’s still of use,
If you believe this: that grand affairs are helped by small matters too.

Hic error tamen et levis haec insania quantas
virtutes habeat, sic collige. vatis avarus
non temere est animus; versus amat, hoc studet unum;
detrimenta, fugas servorum, incendia ridet;
non fraudem socio puerove incogitat ullam
pupillo; vivit siliquis et pane secundo;
militiae quamquam piger et malus, utilis urbi,
si das hoc, parvis quoque rebus magna iuvari.

Horace reads before Maecenas, by Fyodor Bronnikov

Fire and Ice, Madness and Habit

Parmenides, R44 = Generation and Corruption Arist. GC 1.8 325a2–23

“So, then, for these reasons, too, people make claims about the truth. And even if it seems to be the case that these assertions are correct about arguments, it is nearly close to madness to think the same way when it comes to facts.

For no crazy person is so twisted as to believe that fire and ice are the same thing! No, beautiful things and those which seem beautiful only appear not to be different at all to some people because of habit, because of madness.”

οἱ μὲν οὖν οὕτως καὶ διὰ ταύτας τὰς αἰτίας ἀπεφήναντο περὶ τῆς ἀληθείας· ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐπὶ τῶν λόγων μὲν δοκεῖ ταῦτα συμβαίνειν, ἐπὶ δὲ τῶν πραγμάτων μανίᾳ παραπλήσιον εἶναι τὸ δοξάζειν οὕτως· οὐδένα γὰρ τῶν μαινομένων ἐξεστάναι τοσοῦτον ὥστε τὸ πῦρ ἓν εἶναι δοκεῖν καὶ τὸν κρύσταλλον, ἀλλὰ μόνον τὰ καλὰ καὶ τὰ φαινόμενα διὰ συνήθειαν, ταῦτ’ ἐνίοις διὰ τὴν μανίαν οὐθὲν δοκεῖ διαφέρειν.

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From  Tacuinum Sanitatis (c. 1390-1400)

Night Terrors and Anxiety Attacks in Hippocrates

Hippocrates of Cos, Critical Days  302

“And whenever the liver swells more against his lungs, someone goes mad. He thinks he sees before his eyes creeping things and all kinds of beasts, fighting soldiers even as he believes that he is fighting with them. He speaks as if he is seeing these things and lashes out and threatens if someone forbids him from going out. If he stands, he may not be able to raise his legs and falls. His feet are always cold and whenever he sleeps, he jumps up from slumber and has witnessed frightening dreams.

We know that this fitfulness and fearing comes from dreams: whenever he calms down, he describes the kinds of dreams that he shaped out with his body and was describing with his tongue. He suffers these things in this way. And there are times when he is speechless for a whole day and night, gasping deeply for breath. When he stops this mad episode, he is immediately sensible again and if someone asks him a question, he responds right away and understands everything which was said. But, then later again, he falls under the same symptoms. This malady strikes most often when someone is abroad, especially if someone is walking on a deserted road. But it does happen other times too.’

καὶ ὁκόταν τὸ ἧπαρ μᾶλλον ἀναπτυχθῇ πρὸς τὰς φρένας, παραφρονέει· καὶ προφαίνεσθαί οἱ δοκέει πρὸ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἑρπετὰ καὶ ἄλλα παντοδαπὰ θηρία, καὶ ὁπλίτας μαχομένους, καὶ αὐτὸς αὐτοῖς δοκέει μάχεσθαι· καὶ τοιαῦτα λέγει ὡς ὁρέων, καὶ ἐξέρχεται, καὶ ἀπειλεῖ, ἢν μή τις αὐτὸν ἐῴη διεξιέναι· καὶ ἢν ἀναστῇ, οὐ δύναται αἴρειν τὰ σκέλεα, ἀλλὰ πίπτει. οἱ δὲ πόδες αἰεὶ ψυχροί γίνονται· καὶ ὁκόταν καθεύδῃ, ἀναΐσσει ἐκ τοῦ ὕπνου, καὶ ἐνύπνια ὁρῇ φοβερά. τῷδε δὲ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἀπὸ ἐνυπνίων ἀναΐσσει καὶ φοβέεται· ὅταν ἔννοος γένηται, ἀφηγεῖται τὰ ἐνύπνια τοιαῦτα ὁκοῖα καὶ τῷ σώματι ἐποίεέ τε καὶ τῇ γλώσσῃ ἔλεγε. ταῦτα μὲν οὖν ὧδε πάσχει. ἔστι δ᾿ ὅτε καὶ ἄφωνος γίνεται ὅλην τὴν ἡμέρην καὶ τὴν νύκτα, ἀναπνέων πολὺ ἀθρόον πνεῦμα. ὅταν δὲ παύσηται παραφρονέων, εὐθὺς ἔννοος γίνεται, καὶ ἢν ἐρωτᾷ τις αὐτόν, ὀρθῶς ἀποκρίνεται, καὶ γινώσκει πάντα τὰ λεγόμενα· εἶτ᾿ αὖθις ὀλίγῳ ὕστερον ἐν τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἄλγεσι κεῖται. αὕτη ἡ νοῦσος προσπίπτει μάλιστα ἐν ἀποδημίῃ, καὶ ἤν πῃ ἐρήμην ὁδὸν βαδίσῃ· λαμβάνει δὲ καὶ ἄλλως.

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Image from the British Library

A Description of Genius or Madness: An Epistle on Democritus

Hippocrates, Letter 10

A man of ours takes the greatest risks in the city now, Hippocrates, who both in the present moment and in the future has been a hope for fame for the city. May this, by the all the gods, never be a source of envy! When he has become so sick because of the great wisdom which possesses him that as a result he was afraid he might not obtain it—well, that’s how Democritus himself lost hits mind, and then abandoned our city of Abdera.

When he forgot everything, even himself before, he was awake both night and day and was laughing at everything great and small and believing that he would accomplish nothing at all for his whole life. Someone marries, another goes into business, another is a public speaker, another serves in office, he is old, he votes, he votes against things, he is sick, he is wounded, he dies. He laughs at everything, even when he sees the downcast and angry or even those who are happy.

The man is researching into the matters of Hades and he is writing these things and he says that the air is full of ghosts and he heeds the voices of birds. He often gets up alone at night and seems to be singing songs in the silence. And he claims that he often travels into the boundlessness and says that there are an endless number of Democriteis like himself. He lives with his skin ruined as ruined judgment. We fear these things, Hippocrates, and we are anxious about them: so save us, and come home quickly and help our country, do not put us off.”

     Κινδυνεύεται τὰ μέγιστα τῇ πόλει νῦν, ῾Ιππόκρατες, ἀνὴρ τῶν ἡμετέρων, ὃς καὶ τῷ παρόντι χρόνῳ καὶ τῷ μέλλοντι αἰεὶ κλέος ἠλπίζετο τῇ πόλει· μηδὲ νῦν ὅδε, πάντες θεοὶ, φθονηθείη· οὕτως ὑπὸ πολλῆς τῆς κατεχούσης αὐτὸν σοφίης νενόσηκεν, ὥστε φόβος οὐχ ὁ τυχὼν, ἂν φθαρῇ τὸν λογισμὸν Δημόκριτος, ὄντως δὴ τὴν πόλιν ἡμῶν ᾿Αβδηριτῶν καταλειφθήσεσθαι. ᾿Εκλαθόμενος γὰρ ἁπάντων καὶ ἑωυτοῦ πρότερον, ἐγρηγορὼς καὶ νύκτα καὶ ἡμέρην, γελῶν ἕκαστα μικρὰ καὶ μεγάλα, καὶ μηδὲν οἰόμενος εἶναι τὸν βίον ὅλον διατελεῖ. Γαμεῖ τις, ὁ δὲ ἐμπορεύεται, ὁ δὲ δημηγορεῖ, ἄλλος ἄρχει, πρεσβεύει, χειροτονεῖται, ἀποχειροτονεῖται, νοσεῖ, τιτρώσκεται,  τέθνηκεν, ὁ δὲ γελᾷ πάντα, τοὺς μὲν κατηφεῖς τε καὶ σκυθρωποὺς, τοὺς δὲ χαίροντας ὁρῶν. Ζητεῖ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἐν Αδου,

Ζητεῖ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἐν Αδου, καὶ γράφει ταῦτα, καὶ εἰδώλων φησὶ πλήρη τὸν ἠέρα εἶναι, καὶ ὀρνέων φωνὰς ὠτακουστεῖ, καὶ πολλάκις νύκτωρ ἐξαναστὰς μοῦνος ἡσυχῇ ᾠδὰς ᾄδοντι ἔοικε, καὶ ἀποδημεῖν ἐνίοτε λέγει ἐς τὴν ἀπειρίην, καὶ Δημοκρίτους εἶναι ὁμοίους ἑωυτῷ ἀναριθμήτους, καὶ συνδιεφθορὼς τῇ γνώμῃ τὸ χρῶμα ζῇ. Ταῦτα φοβούμεθα, ῾Ιππόκρατες, ταῦτα ταραττόμεθα, ἀλλὰ σῶζε, καὶ ταχὺς ἐλθὼν νουθέτησον τὴν ἡμῶν πατρίδα, μηδὲ ἡμᾶς ἀποβάλῃς·

Suda s.v. γλουτῶν

“Democritus of Abdera was called the “Laugher” because he laughed at the useless seriousness of human beings”

ὅτι ὁ Δημόκριτος ὁ ᾿Αβδηρίτης ἐπεκλήθη Γελασῖνος διὰ τὸ γελᾶν πρὸς τὸ κενόσπουδον τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

 

More on Democritus:

Robert Burton’s Sketch

Aulus Gellius with Laberius’ Play on Democritus’ Blinding

From ‘The Book of Macharius on the eye’, late 14th-century. BL, Sloane MS 981, f.68.

How To Talk to a (Potentially Deranged) Patient

Rufus of Ephesus, Quest. Medic. 2

“It is right to ask someone who is sick questions from which something of the matters concerning the sickness might be diagnosed and might be treated better. First, I advise to make inquiries from the one who is sick himself. For you might from this learn how much the person is sick or healthy in respect to judgment along with his strength and weakness and what type of sickness and what place he has suffered.

If the patient answers right away and properly and plausibly and without stumbling in speech or sense and if it is according to is typical matter—if he is otherwise orderly, in a gentle and orderly way, but, if otherwise bold or fearful, in a brash or timid manner—it is right to consider him to be in his right mind. But if you ask him some things and he should answer others or forget in the middle of speaking, if his speech is unsteady and unclear and there are shifts from his first manner to the opposite, these are all signs of being deranged.”

     ᾿Ερωτήματα χρὴ τὸν νοσοῦντα ἐρωτᾶν, ἐξ ὧν ἂν καὶ διαγνωσθείη τι τῶν περὶ τὴν νόσον ἀκριβέστερον καὶ θεραπευθείη κάλλιον. πρῶτον δὲ ἐκεῖνο ὑποτίθημι τὰς πεύσεις αὐτοῦ τοῦ νοσοῦντος ποιεῖσθαι. μάθοις γὰρ ἂν ἐνθένδε ὅσα τε κατὰ γνώμην νοσεῖ ἢ ὑγιαίνει ὁ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ῥώμην αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀσθένειαν, καὶ τίνα ἰδέαν νόσου καὶ τίνα τόπον πεπονηκὼς <εἴη>. εἰ μὲν γὰρ ἐφεξῆς τε ἀποκρίνοιτο καὶ μνημονικῶς καὶ τὰ εἰκότα καὶ μηδαμῆ σφαλλόμενος μήτε τῇ γλώττῃ μήτε τῇ γνώμῃ καὶ εἰ καθ’ ὁρμὴν τὴν οἰκείαν, —εἰ μέν ἐστιν ἄλλως κόσμιος, πράως καὶ

κοσμίως, ὁ δ’ αὖ φύσει θρασὺς ἢ δειλὸς θρασέως ἢ δεδοικ<ότ>ως—τοῦτον μὲν χρὴ νομίζειν τὰ γοῦν κατὰ γνώμην καλῶς ἔχειν. εἰ δὲ καὶ ἄλλα σὺ μὲν ἐρωτᾷς, ὁ δὲ ἄλλα ἀποκρίνοιτο καὶ εἰ μεταξὺ λέγων ἐπιλανθάνοιτο, αἱ δὲ τρομώδεις καὶ ἀσαφεῖς γλῶσσαι καὶ αἱ μεταστάσεις ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀρχαίου τρόπου πρὸς τὸ ἐναντίον, πάντα ταῦτα παρακρουστικά.

 

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Sloane MS 1975, f. 91v

Hippocrates: Unmarried Women are Sad Because of Periods

Hippocrates of Cos, On Girls [Peri Parthenôn] 1

“Let’s talk first concerning the disease which is called sacred and paralyzed people and the many anxieties which frighten people seriously enough that they lose their minds and believe that they see evil spirits by night or even at times by die or sometimes on all hours. Many have hanged themselves before because of this kind of vision, more often women than men.

For a woman’s nature is more depressed and sorrowful. And young women, when they are at the age of marriage and without a husband, suffer terribly at the time of their menstruation, which they did not suffer earlier in life. For blood collects later in their uterus so that it may flow out. When, then, the mouth of the exit does not create an opening, the blood pools up more because of food and the body’s growth. When the blood has nowhere to flow, it rises up toward the heart and the diaphragm. When these organs are filled, the heart is desensitized and from this transformation it becomes numb. Madness overtakes women because of this numbness.”

Πρῶτον περὶ τῆς ἱερῆς νούσου καλεομένης, καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀποπληκτικῶν, καὶ περὶ τῶν δειμάτων, ὁκόσα φοβεῦνται ἰσχυρῶς ἄνθρωποι, ὥστε παραφρονέειν καὶ ὁρῆν δοκέειν δαίμονάς τινας ἐφ᾿ ἑωυτῶν δυσμενέας, ὁκότε μὲν νυκτός, ὁκότε δὲ ἡμέρης, ὁκότε δὲ ἀμφοτέρῃσι τῇσιν ὥρῃσιν. ἔπειτα ἀπὸ τῆς τοιαύτης ὄψιος πολλοὶ ἤδη ἀπηγχονίσθησαν, πλέονες δὲ γυναῖκες ἢ ἄνδρες· ἀθυμοτέρη γὰρ καὶ λυπηροτέρη ἡ φύσις ἡ γυναικείη. αἱ δὲ παρθένοι, ὁκόσῃσιν ὥρη γάμου, παρανδρούμεναι, τοῦτο μᾶλλον πάσχουσιν ἅμα τῇ καθόδῳ τῶν ἐπιμηνίων, πρότερον οὐ μάλα ταῦτα κακοπαθέουσαι. ὕστερον γὰρ τὸ αἷμα ξυλλείβεται ἐς τὰς μήτρας, ὡς ἀπορρευσόμενον· ὁκόταν οὖν τὸ στόμα τῆς ἐξόδου μὴ ᾖ ἀνεστομωμένον, τὸ δὲ αἷμα πλέον ἐπιρρέῃ διά τε σιτία καὶ τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ σώματος, τηνικαῦτα οὐκ ἔχον τὸ αἷμα ἔκρουν ἀναΐσσει ὑπὸ πλήθους ἐς τὴν καρδίην καὶ ἐς τὴν διάφραξιν. ὁκόταν οὖν ταῦτα πληρωθέωσιν, ἐμωρώθη ἡ καρδίη, εἶτ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μωρώσιος νάρκη, εἶτ᾿ ἐκ τῆς νάρκης παράνοια ἔλαβεν.

Hippocrates should have consulted a woman physician like Trotula

Philo Can’t Feel His Face (When He’s With You): On Sense and Minds

Philo, On the Cherubim, 116 (33)

“Is my mind my own private possession? It is a creator of lies, a founder of wandering, of paranoia, of foolishness, a thing revealed to be the opposite of a mind in its mania and depression and eventual old age.

Is what I say my own private possession or the organs of speech? Isn’t a minor sickness enough to weaken the tongue or to sew up the mouth of even the most articulate? Doesn’t the expectation of terror strike and render most people mute?

And I am not revealed to be master even of my perception—instead, I think I am even its servant following wherever it leads to colors, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes and other corporeal things.”

ὁ δὲ νοῦς ἐμόν ἐστιν ἴδιον κτῆμα; ὁ ψευδῶν εἰκαστικός, ὁ πλάνης οἰστικός, ὁ παρανοῶν, ὁ μωραίνων, ὁ εὑρισκόμενος ἄνους ἐν ἐκστάσει καὶ μελαγχολίᾳ καὶ μακρῷ γήρᾳ; ἀλλ᾿ ὁ λόγος κτῆμα ἐμόν; ἢ τὰ φωνῆς ὄργανα; μικρὰ νόσου πρόφασις οὐ τὴν γλῶτταν ἐπήρωσεν, οὐ τὸ στόμα καὶ τῶν πάνυ λογίων ἀπέρραψεν; οὐχὶ δεινοῦ προσδοκία καταπλήξασα μυρίους ἀχανεῖς ἐποίησε; καὶ μὴν οὐδὲ τῆς αἰσθήσεως ἡγεμὼν εὑρίσκομαι, τάχα δέ που καὶ δοῦλος ἀκολουθῶν ᾗ ἂν ἄγῃ, πρὸς χρώματα, πρὸς σχήματα, πρὸς φωνάς, πρὸς ὀσμάς, πρὸς χυλούς, πρὸς τὰ ἄλλα σώματα.

 

This image has nothing to do with this passage. I just think it is amazing.

University Library Heidelberg

This, on the other hand.

Heroes, Isolation, and Madness

The notion of the depressive and insane artist (etc.) is an ancient one. In this passage it is also related to the stories of heroes. The different symptoms of madness Aristotle offers here are interesting. For instance, Bellerophon’s avoidance of other humans is seen as a symptom rather than a cause of his madness.

Aristotle, Problems 30

“What reason is it that all those men who are preeminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the other arts are clearly melancholic and are so much so that they are also overcome by the afflictions from the black bile, as is implied in the tales of Herakles of the heroes? For that figure seems to be of this nature and because of this the ancients called the illnesses of epilepsy a sacred disease after him. And his madness toward his children and the outbreak of open sores before he vanished on Mt. Oitê make this clear. For this comes to many because of the black bile. These sores developed on the Spartan Lysander before his death.

In addition to this there are tales about Ajax and Bellerophon. The first of them was completely mad; but the second pursued isolated places, which is how Homer depicts him as “when that man was hated by all the gods / then he wandered alone on the Alêian plain / consuming his heart and avoiding the path of other people.”

And many other heroes seem to have shared afflictions with these men. In later times, Empedocles, Plato, Socrates and many other famous people [suffered] too. In addition, most of those who worked at poetry [suffered]. In many people like this the diseases develop from a kind of mixture in the body while in others there is a clear nature predisposing them to these maladies. But all, to put it simply, as has been said, are this way somehow because of nature.”

1. Διὰ τί πάντες ὅσοι περιττοὶ γεγόνασιν ἄνδρες ἢ κατὰ φιλοσοφίαν ἢ πολιτικὴν ἢ ποίησιν ἢ τέχνας φαίνονται μελαγχολικοὶ ὄντες, καὶ οἱ μὲν οὕτως ὥστε καὶ λαμβάνεσθαι τοῖς ἀπὸ μελαίνης χολῆς ἀρρωστήμασιν, οἷον λέγεται τῶν [τε] ἡρωϊκῶν τὰ περὶ τὸν Ἡρακλέα; καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος ἔοικε | γενέσθαι ταύτης τῆς φύσεως, διὸ καὶ τὰ ἀρρωστήματα τῶν ἐπιληπτικῶν ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνου προσηγόρευον οἱ ἀρχαῖοι ἱερὰν νόσον. καὶ ἡ περὶ τοὺς παῖδας ἔκστασις καὶ ἡ πρὸ τῆς ἀφανίσεως ἐν Οἴτῃ τῶν ἑλκῶν ἔκφυσις γενομένη τοῦτο δηλοῖ· καὶ γὰρ τοῦτο γίνεται πολλοῖς ἀπὸ μελαίνης χολῆς. συνέβη δὲ καὶ | Λυσάνδρῳ τῷ Λάκωνι πρὸ τῆς τελευτῆς γενέσθαι τὰ ἕλκη ταῦτα. ἔτι δὲ τὰ περὶ Αἴαντα καὶ Βελλεροφόντην, ὧν ὁ μὲν ἐκστατικὸς ἐγένετο παντελῶς, ὁ δὲ τὰς ἐρημίας ἐδίωκεν, διὸ οὕτως ἐποίησεν Ὅμηρος

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ καὶ κεῖνος ἀπήχθετο πᾶσι θεοῖσιν,
ἤτοι ὁ κὰπ πεδίον τὸ Ἀλήϊον οἶος ἀλᾶτο
ὃν | θυμὸν κατέδων, πάτον ἀνθρώπων ἀλεείνων.

καὶ ἄλλοι δὲ πολλοὶ τῶν ἡρώων ὁμοιοπαθεῖς φαίνονται τούτοις. τῶν δὲ ὕστερον Ἐμπεδοκλῆς καὶ Πλάτων καὶ Σωκράτης καὶ ἕτεροι συχνοὶ τῶν γνωρίμων. ἔτι δὲ τῶν περὶ τὴν ποίησιν οἱ πλεῖστοι. πολλοῖς μὲν γὰρ τῶν τοιούτων γίνεται νοσήματα ἀπὸ | τῆς τοιαύτης κράσεως τῷ σώματι, τοῖς δὲ ἡ φύσις δήλη ῥέπουσα πρὸς τὰ πάθη. πάντες δ᾿ οὖν ὡς εἰπεῖν ἁπλῶς εἰσί, καθάπερ ἐλέχθη, τοιοῦτοι τὴν φύσιν.

Another figure often seen as less than sane is Philoktetes who his described as (2.721)

“He lies there on the island suffering strong pains
In fertile Lemnos where the sons of the Achaeans left him
Suffering with an evil wound from a murderous watersnake.”

ἀλλ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖτο κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων
Λήμνῳ ἐν ἠγαθέῃ, ὅθι μιν λίπον υἷες ᾿Αχαιῶν
ἕλκεϊ μοχθίζοντα κακῷ ὀλοόφρονος ὕδρου·

When Odysseus is described in book 5 of the Odyssey, his first line is identical with Philoktetes’ (Od. 5.13-15):

“He lies there on the island suffering strong pains
In the halls of Kalypso the nymph who holds him
By necessity. He is not able to return to his paternal land.”

ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖται κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων,
νύμφης ἐν μεγάροισι Καλυψοῦς, ἥ μιν ἀνάγκῃ
ἴσχει· ὁ δ’ οὐ δύναται ἣν πατρίδα γαῖαν ἱκέσθαι·

If we can imagine an “abnormal mental state” for these figures, the implication is the inverse, perhaps, of what Aristotle indicates for Bellerophon. Their madness is caused by isolation rather than causing it. When commenting upon Odysseus’ first appearance in book 5, an ancient scholar records Aristonicus’ comment that the language is more fit (οἰκειότερον ἐν ᾿Ιλιάδι) for the Iliad at 2.721 where Philoktetes is described. He adds that it would be right for him instead to be “tortured in his heart” (νῦν δὲ ἔδει τετιημένος ἦτορ εἶναι, Schol. H ad Od. 5.13).

Psychologists have studied the emotional and physical effects of isolation over the past few generations. These studies reinforce important themes of the Odyssey, namely that individual identity is constitutive of social relationships without which we cease to be ourselves. Modern studies of isolated individuals have shown that limited social engagements have deleterious emotional effects including a rise in fear and paranoia and a decrease in self-esteem. Some have even argued that over time, the brain of an isolated person has fewer neural connections and a thinner cerebral cortex. Inmates have difficulties with memory, distorted perceptions of reality, and display a deterioration of language function. Isolation’s biological changes affect the very parts of the brain that facilitate social interaction, higher order analytical thinking, and the ability to plan and act in the world.

Image result for GReek vase Philoctetes

David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000.

39: “Beginning with ancient Greece, Thiher’s study demonstrates that literary stories of mental discordance have provided the foundation for scientific explanations of cognitive deviance. Rather than view this historical material as superficial and primitive, Thiher argues for a historical vision of madness as that which could productively give voice to the existence of disparate, and even antithetical, “realities”.

Some inspirations

Andersen, H. S., Sestoft, D. D., Lillebæk, T. T., Gabrielsen, G. G., Hemmingsen, R. R., & Kramp, P. P. (2000), ―”A Longitudinal Study of Prisoners on Remand: Psychiatric Prevalence, Incidence and Psychopathology in Solitary vs.Non-Solitary Confinement.‖ , 102(1), 19.

Betty Gilmore and Nanon M. Williams. The Darkest Hour: Shedding Light on the Impact of Isolation and Death Row in Texas Prisons. Dallas 2014.

Fatos Kaba, Andrea Lewis, Sarah Glowa-Kollisch, James Hadler, David Lee, Howard Alper, Daniel Selling, Ross MacDonald, Angela Solimo, Amanda Parsons, and Homer Venters.  “Solitary Confinement and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates.” American Journal of Public Health: March 2014, Vol. 104, No. 3, pp. 442-447.

Shruti Ravindran. “Twilight in the Box.” Aeon 27 February 2014.

Thiher, Allen. 1999. Revels in Madness: Insanity in Medicine and Literature. Ann Arbor.