“Furthermore, for these things it is believed that their opposites are born from fear, just as in hatred of women as in the Misogunos of Atilius or that against the whole race of humankind which we have heard that Timon who is called the Misanthrope felt or even being inhospitable.
All these diseases of the soul develop from a special fear of those things which people fear and then hate. They define a disease of the soul, moreover, as a vehement belief about a thing which is not desired even though it is anticipated powerfully, a belief which is constant and deeply held.”
Quae autem sunt his contraria, ea nasci putantur a metu, ut odium mulierum, quale in Μισογύνῳ Atilii1 est, ut in hominum universum genus, quod accepimus de Timone, qui μισάνθρωπος appellatur, ut inhospitalitas est: quae omnes aegrotationes animi ex quodam metu nascuntur earum rerum, quas fugiunt et oderunt. Definiunt autem animi aegrotationem opinationem vehementem de re non expetenda, tamquam valde expetenda sit, inhaerentem et penitus insitam.
“Around noon, when the sun’s flame was already hot, we turned off in some village to the home of some old men known well to the thieves. This was easy to understand for even a donkey thanks to the prolonged conversation and shared kisses. They also gave some gifts to them which I had carried on my back and seemed to relate that they were obtained through theft with secret whispers. Once we were unburdened of every bag, they left us to amble and eat in a field next to the home.
But I was not really drawn to a pastoral communion with either the ass or my old horse and I was also not quite used to eating grass. I could see a garden on the other side of the stable, so I broke into it, already wracked by hunger. I filled my stomach immediately with those vegetables, even though they were raw, and I was saying a little prayer to all the gods as I looked around the place, hoping I might find the light of rose bushes in the nearby gardens.
This isolation was providing me confidence I did not have before, if once I was away from the road and hidden by bushes, I could eat the medicine and rise from the curved-hoof of four-footed pack animal to stand straight like a man, while no one was looking.”
Diem ferme circa medium, cum iam flagrantia solis caleretur, in pago quodam apud notos ac familiares latronibus senes devertimus. Sic enim primus aditus et sermo prolixus et oscula mutua quamvis asino sentire praestabant. Nam et rebus eos quibusdam dorso meo depromptis munerabantur, et secretis gannitibus quod essent latrocinio partae videbantur indicare. Iamque nos omni sarcina levatos in pratum proximum passim libero pastui tradidere. Nec me cum asino vel equo meo compascuus coetus attinere potuit, adhuc insolitum alioquin prandere faenum; sed plane pone stabulum prospectum hortulum iam fame perditus fidenter invado, et quamvis crudis holeribus affatim tamen ventrem sagino, deosque comprecatus omnes cuncta prospectabam loca, sicubi forte conterminis in hortulis candens reperirem rosarium. Nam et ipsa solitudo iam mihi bonam fiduciam tribuebat, si devius et frutectis absconditus, sumpto remedio, de iumenti quadripedis incurvo gradu rursum erectus in hominem inspectante nullo resurgerem.
“His mother, old age’s roommate
And pale in old age
When she hears he is afflicted with a mind-devouring sickness
Will not hold back her mourning,
Her mourning nor the pitiful lament of the nightingale
But she will wail the sharp funereal tones.
Strikes will sound as they fall on her breasts
And she will rip out her white hair.
Anyone who is pointlessly sick is better off
When he lies down with Hades.”
“Someone who is pointlessly sick
Is better when lying in Hades.
Look—one who came from one of the best lines
Of the much suffering Achaeans
Is no longer secure
In his childhood’s mind.
He wanders outside of it.
Miserable parent, what kind of a fate
remains for you to learn of your child,
the kind of life no other the descendants of Aiakos
faced before now.”
“Perikles, when he lost his sons in the plague, took their deaths most bravely and persuaded the Athenians to endure the deaths of their closest friends more graciously.
Xanthippe was in the habit of saying that even through endless troubles had afflicted Athens and themselves, she always saw the same expression on Socrates’ face when he left the home and returned. He kept a level response to all things and was always pleasant in attitude, above any kind of grief, and entirely stronger than fear.”
“You have spoken rightly, but you don’t speak kindly to me”
ὀρθῶς ἔλεξας· οὐ φίλως δέ μοι λέγεις.
“We are ruined, like corpses, we are dead.
This one goes among the dead and the greater share
Of my life goes there too
In weeping and mourning
And tears in the night
Unmarried without children I drag out
An unlivable life for the rest of my time.”
“I reject you, speaker of fate, divine protector of truth.
I am in debt only to my father.
I am a double-parricide, more guilty, I fear, since
I killed my mother. She was done in by my crime.
Apollo, you liar, I have outdone my evil destiny.
I pursue lying paths with a trembling step.
Pulling myself away with each slowed print,
I guide my dark sight with a shaking right hand.
I move forward, unsure foot after slipping foot,
Go, flee, disappear. But, stop, don’t fall on mother.
Any who are tired at heart and overcome with sickness,
Lugging around a half-dead body, look at me: I am leaving.
Lift up your gaze to see, a lighter sky follows
My back. Whoever lies in isolation
And still breathes can now take a deep breath
Of clean air. Go, go and help those cast aside.
I take the deadly sicknesses away from this land with me.
Brutal Fate, terrible shaking of Disease,
Starvation and dark Death, maddening Sickness,
Leave with me, Come with me. These are the guides who please me.”
Fatidice te, te praesidem veri deum
compello: solum debui fatis patrem;
bis parricida plusque quam timui nocens
matrem peremi: scelere confecta est meo.
o Phoebe mendax, fata superavi impia.
Pavitante gressu sequere fallentes vias;
suspensa plantis efferens vestigia
caecam tremente dextera noctem rege.
—ingredere praeceps, lubricos ponens gradus,
i profuge vade—siste, ne in matrem incidas.
Quicumque fessi pectore et morbo graves
semianima trahitis corpora, en fugio, exeo:
relevate colla, mitior caeli status
post terga sequitur. quisquis exilem iacens
animam retentat, vividos haustus levis
concipiat. ite, ferte depositis opem:
mortifera mecum vitia terrarum extraho.
Violenta Fata et horridus Morbi tremor,
Maciesque et atra Pestis et rabidus Dolor,
mecum ite, mecum. ducibus his uti libet.
“Don’t be at all surprised that I hold on to my money,
Lord, Even mortals who have immense wealth
Still clutch to profits when humans put everything
In second place after money.
Some people envy the person who isn’t sick.
But no poor person seems healthy to me—the poor are always sick.”
“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.’ “
“Remember that Socrates’ body was thought to be orderly and in control of wisdom for this reason too. When the Athenians were suffering a pandemic and some were dying and others were near death, Socrates was the only one who was not sick. What mind do we think shared space with such a body?”
“Do these practices merely make a refinement of the senses or establish power over the greatest and most amazing forces? You need to see what I mean from different things, not the least of which were done during that epidemic in Ephesus.
When the disease was in the shape of an old beggar, I saw it and once I saw it I tackled it. I did not stop the disease but instead I destroyed it. The one I prayed to is clear as day in the temple which I built in thanks. It was for Herakles the Defender, the one I chose as a helper—because he is wise and brave, he once cleansed Elis of a plague and wiped away the waves of filth which the earth released when Augeas was tyrant.”
“I have suffered the deepest bereavement, if it can be called bereavement when such a great man is gone. Corellius Rufus died and it was by his own will, a fact which hurts me even more. It is truly the most painful kind of death when it appears neither natural or according to fate.
When someone is overwhelmed in sickness and death carries them off too quickly, then there is some solace from the fact there was a reason for it. Deep logic—that force which replaces compulsion for the wise—certainly compelled Corellius, even though he still had many reasons to live: great fame and conscience, considerable authority, in addition to a daughter, wife, sister and grandchild and many real friends among them. Yet he was overwhelmed by such a long, unfair sickness that the value of living was overcome by the reasons for death.”
Plinius Calestrio Tironi Suo S.
1Iacturam gravissimam feci, si iactura dicenda est tanti viri amissio. Decessit Corellius Rufus et quidem sponte, quod dolorem meum exulcerat. Est enim luctuosissimum genus mortis, quae non ex natura nec fatalis videtur. Nam utcumque in illis qui morbo finiuntur, magnum ex ipsa necessitate solacium est; in iis vero quos accersita mors aufert, Corellium quidem summa ratio, quae sapientibus pro necessitate est, ad hoc consilium compulit, quamquam plurimas vivendi causas habentem, optimam conscientiam optimam famam, maximam auctoritatem, praeterea filiam uxorem nepotem 4sorores, interque tot pignora veros amicos. Sed tam longa, tam iniqua valetudine conflictabatur, ut haec tanta pretia vivendi mortis rationibus vincerentur.