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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Identifying Insanity Is A Property of the Sane

Apuleius, Apologia 80

“Finally, what do you prefer that she was sane or insane while she was writing? You claim sane? Therefore, she was not under the influence of occult arts. You will say she was insane? In that case, she was unconscious of what she wrote and must not be trusted. Or, more to the case, if she had been insane, she would not have known that she was insane.

For, it is like when someone is not silent because he says he is silent and by the utterance itself undermines his own claim. But saying “I’m crazy” betrays someone even more because it is not true unless he says it without understanding. The person is sane, moreover, who knows what insanity is; and, certainly, insanity cannot know itself any more than blindness can see itself.

Therefore, Prudentilla was sound in mind, if she did not think she was sound in mind. I could add more, if I wanted to, but I will leave philosopher behind now.”

Postremo quid vis: sanam an insanam fuisse, dum scriberet? Sanam dices? Nihil ergo erat magicis artibus passa. Insanam respondebis? Nesciit ergo quid scripserit, eoque ei fides non habenda est; immo etiam, si fuisset insana, insanam se esse nescisset. Nam ut absurde facit qui tacere se dicit, quod ibidem dicendo tacere sese non tacet et ipsa professione quod profitetur infirmat, ita vel magis hoc repugnant, “ego insanio,” quod verum non est, nisi  sciens dicit. Porro sanus est, qui scit quid sit insania, quippe insania scire se non potest, non magis quam caecitas se videre; igitur Pudentilla compos mentis fuit, si compotem mentis se non putabat. Possum, si velim, pluribus, sed mitto dialectica

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MS of Pseudo-Apuleius Platonicus, De medicaminibus herbarum liber, England 12th century. British Library, Harley 5294, fol. 43r

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