“There are other medicinal applications of iron beyond surgery. For when a circle is drawn around both adults and infants—or of they carry a sharp iron weapon with them—it is useful against poisonous drugs. Iron nails which have been taken out of tombs are useful protections against nightmares if they are hammered down before a threshold.
A small penetration with an iron weapon which has wounded a man is effective against sudden side and chest pains. Some afflictions are treated by cauterization, especially true for the bite of a rabid dog, since even when the disease has advanced and those afflicted are starting to exhibit fear of water, they experience relief at cauterization. The drinking of water which has been heated with burning iron is good for many symptoms, but especially for dysentery.”
XLIV. Medicina e ferro est et alia quam secandi. namque et circumscribi circulo terve circumlato mucrone et adultis et infantibus prodest contra noxia medicamenta, et praefixisse in limine evulsos sepulchris clavos adversus nocturnas lymphationes, pungique leviter mucrone, quo percussus homo sit, contra dolores laterum pectorumque subitos, qui punctionem adferant. quaedam ustione sanantur, privatim vero canis rabidi morsus, quippe etiam praevalente morbo expaventesque potum usta plaga ilico liberantur. calfit etiam ferro candente potus in multis vitiis, privatim vero dysentericis.
“Some people have suggested using ten berries in a drink against scorpion stings. You can use the same to relieve a relaxed uvula: gargle quarter pound of berries or leaves reduced in three measure of water when it is still warm. To treat a headache, use an uneven number of berries crushed and warmed in oil. The leaves of the delphic bay, once pounded, may stop the spread of the plague if you smell them: this works even better when they are burned.”
quidam adversus scorpionum ictus decem bacas dari iubent potu, item et in remedio uvae iacentis quadrantem pondo bacarum foliorumve decoqui in aquae sextariis tribus ad tertias, eam calidam gargarizare et in capitis dolore inpari numero bacas cum oleo conterere et calfacere. laurus Delphicae folia trita olfactaque subinde pestilentiae contagia prohibent, tanto magis si et urantur.
“This work is about that disease which people call “sacred”. It does not seem to me to be more divine or more sacred than any of the rest of the diseases, but it also has a natural cause and people have assumed it is sacred because of their own inexperience and their considerable wonder over how different it seems to them.”
“Those who first claimed that the disease is divinely caused seem to me to be something like the wizards, snake-oil salesmen, faith-healers, and quacks of today, those kinds of men who pretend to great piety and superior knowledge. These kinds of healers shelter themselves and use superstition as a shield against their own helplessness when they have nothing they can do to help. They claim that this affliction is sacred so it won’t be clear that they don’t know anything. They add a ready-made story and throw in a treatment in order to keep their own position strong.”
As Vivian Nutton makes clear in the overview of Mental Illness in the Ancient World (available in Brill’s New Pauly), Hippocrates Breaks from Ancient Near Eastern and Early Greek tradition here in offering physical explanations for mental illness of all kinds instead of divine explanations. Platonic and Aristotelian traditions follow with variations on somatism (the body as the cause), adding in addition to the humors, bile, and disharmony among the organs, habits (excessive consumption, actions) and environments. These approaches were refined by Hellenistic doctors and the work of Rufus and Galen where treatments also came to include psychotherapeutic as well as the physical treatments. The swing towards demonic possession as an explanation during Late Antiquity and the Christian middle ages took mental health approaches back towards the ‘sacred’ explanations of pre-rational antiquity.
Some other posts about mental health from antiquity. Oftentimes translators keep the ancient Greek term melancholy (“black bile”)
Epictetus, Treatises Collected by Arrian, 2.15: To those who cling tenaciously to any judgments they have made
“Whenever some people hear these words—that it is right to be consistent, that the moral person is free by nature and never compelled, while everything else may be hindered, forced, enslaved, subjected to others—they imagine that it is right that they maintain every judgment they have made without compromising at all.
But the first issue is that the judgment should be a good one. For, if I wish to maintain the state of my body, it should be when it is healthy, well-exercised. If you show me that you have the tones of a fevered mind and brag about it, I will say ‘Dude, look for a therapist. This is not health, but sickness.’ “
“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.”
Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom (Moralia138a-146a : Conjugalia Praecepta)
“These kinds of studies, foremost, distract women from inappropriate matters. For, a wife will be ashamed to dance when she is learning geometry. And she will not receive spells of medicine if she is charmed by Platonic dialogues and the works of Xenophon. And if anyone claims she can pull down the moon, she will laugh at the ignorance and simplicity of the women who believe these things because she herself is not ignorant of astronomy and she has read about Aglaonikê. She was the daughter of Hêgêtor of Thessaly because she knew all about the periods of the moon and eclipses knew before everyone about the time when the moon would be taken by the shadow of the earth. She tricked the other women and persuaded them that she herself was causing the lunar eclipse.”
“An owl is a clever creature who is really like witches. It captures its hunters whenever it is caught. So they carry it around like a pet, or, by Zeus, a special charm on their shoulders. At night it guards over them and uses its call like an incantation to release a complex, comforting spell. This attracts birds to come near it. During the day too it tempts birds with a different kind of bait to fool them. It changes its facial expressions as you look and the birds are enchanted and stay frozen with horror while watching, filled with fear by these changes of shape.”
“To begin with, they wrongly reject prior meditation on future affairs. For there is nothing which works so well to calm or relieve anxiety as much as the thought throughout your life that there is nothing that is can’t happen; there’s no contemplation better for our human condition as the law of of life and learning obedience to it—this doesn’t make us sad all the time but keeps us from ever being so. For the person who reflects on the nature of things, on the variety of life, and the precarity of human existence is not sad in considering these things but is carrying out the duty of wisdom in the fullest way.
For they pursue both in enjoying the particular harvest of philosophy by considering what happens in human life and in suffering adverse outcomes by cleansning with a three-part solace. First, by previously accepting the possibility of misfortune—which is the most way of weakening and managing any annoyance and second, by learning that human events must be endured humanely; and third, by recognizing that there is nothing evil except for blame and there is no blame when the event is something against which no human can endure.”
Principio male reprehendunt praemeditationem rerum futurarum. Nihil est enim quod tam obtundat elevetque aegritudinem quam perpetua in omni vita cogitatio nihil esse, quod non accidere possit, quam meditatio condicionis humanae, quam vitae lex commentatioque parendi, quae non hoc adfert, ut semper maereamus, sed ut numquam. Neque enim qui rerum naturam, qui vitae varietatem, qui imbecillitatem generis humani cogitat, maeret, cum haec cogitat, sed tum vel maxime sapientiae fungitur munere. Utrumque enim consequitur, ut et considerandis rebus humanis proprio philosophiae fruatur officio et adversis casibus triplici consolatione sanetur: primum quod posse accidere diu cogitavit, quae cogitatio una maxime molestias omnes extenuat et diluit; deinde quod humana humane ferenda intelligit; postremo quod videt malum nullum esse nisi culpam, culpam autem nullam esse, cum id, quod ab homine non potuerit praestari, evenerit.
Lucretius, De Rerum Natura .540-147
“Unless matter itself had been eternal before our time
Everything would have already reverted to nothing
And whatever we see would also have come from nothing.
But since I have demonstrated that nothing can be made from nothing
And what has been made cannot be returned to nothing
There ought to be a primal creation for the immortal body
Where everything diffuses again at the final moment
to supply matter itself for the rebirth of things.”
raeterea nisi materies aeterna fuisset,
antehac ad nilum penitus res quaeque redissent,
de niloque renata forent quaecumque videmus.
at quoniam supra docui nil posse creari
de nilo neque quod genitum est ad nil revocari,
esse inmortali primordia corpore debent,
dissolui quo quaeque supremo tempore possint,
materies ut suppeditet rebus reparandis.
“My Epigenes, how important for health exercise is—and how it is right to engage in it before good—has been sufficiently explained by much earlier men, the best of the philosophers and doctors. But no one before has sufficiently explained how much exercises with a small ball are better than the others. It is right, for this reason, for me to explain what I know so that you may evaluate it as someone who is of all men most well practiced in these arts and also so that it may be useful for others—should you truly believe that they have been elaborated sufficiently—when you share the work with them.
For I say that he best of all exercises are not only those which thoroughly wear out the body, but can also delight the soul. Men who invented the practice of hunting with dogs figured out how to combine hunting with pleasure, delight, and competitive spirit—they were wise in respect to human nature. The soul may be moved so much in this activity, that many people are freed from disease because of pleasure alone while many others who felt sickness coming on were relieved of the pressure.
There is nothing of the experiences of the body which is so strong that it completely overpowers the soul. Therefore, we should not neglect the movements of the spirit—whatever kind they are—but, instead, we should make a greater consideration of it than of the body because it is that much more powerful. This is certainly a shared quality of all exercises which happen pleasurably, but it is a choice quality of those performed with the small ball, which I will now explain.”
I do like a gecko shitting on Socrates
ἥσθην γαλεώτῃ καταχέσαντι Σωκράτους
We know Strepsiades finds this hilarious because he tells us he does, echoing in his response the words used by the Student, and employed a tabooed term for excrement in Greek, chezō/χέζω, ‘shit’. We can reasonably assume that at least some of Aristophanes’ audience might also have lined up with Strepsiades in having a laugh at the philosopher’s expense, whether or not they would have admitted it.
Lysistrata compares the purging of the city state to combing bits of poo from wool (Aristophanes, Lysistrata 574-5), using one of the many words for different types of animal dung which are recorded – dung with which the everyday inhabitant of the ancient world was much more familiar:
First of all, like washing out a fleece, one must wash the sheep droppings (oispōtē) out of the city in a bath
In contrast to Socrates’ encounter with the gecko, it is important to note that even though this is in Aristophanes, there is likely nothing amusing about the scene: politicians may be being tacitly compared to dried-on sheep poo, but if there is mockery intended here, it’s of Lysistrata’s feminine homespun-wisdom which she tries to apply to the affairs of democratic state.
Amy Coker has a PhD in Classics from the University of Manchester, UK. She taught and held research positions in University-land for the best part of a decade after her PhD, before jumping ship to school teaching (11-18 year olds) in 2018. She still manages to find time to think and write about Ancient Greek offensive words, pragmatics, and historical linguistics. She can be found on Twitter at @AECoker.
“Everything that’s been said already is true: a doctor needs to have a certain appropriate manner, since austerity is offensive to the healthy and sick alike. Doctors should also watch themselves carefully and avoid revealing too much that is personal and gossiping with regular people, saying only what is needed.
Realize that gossip invites criticism of treatment. Doctors should do nothing that seems too fussy or showy. Figure out everything you need to do or use beforehand for each situation. If you don’t, something will always be missing when it is needed.”