I love this story. It fills me with hope and envy.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“I say that anger has this evil: it is not willing to be ruled. It is irate against truth itself it truth seems to be against what it desires. It attacks those it has selected with bellowing, chaos, and near complete bodily seizure when it piles on insults and curses.
Reason does not do this. But if there is a need, it quietly and secretly destroys whole households and families which threaten the state along with wives and children. It demolishes the very roofs themselves and wipes out the names of those opposed to liberty.”
Habet, inquam, iracundia hoc mali; non vult regi. Irascitur veritati ipsi, si contra voluntatem suam apparuit; cum clamore et tumultu et totius corporis iactatione quos destinavit insequitur adiectis conviciis maledictisque. Hoc non facit ratio; sed si ita opus est, silens quietaque totas domus funditus tollit et familias rei publicae pestilentes cum coniugibus ac liberis perdit, tecta ipsa diruit et solo exaequat et inimica libertati nomina exstirpat.