Just Think Your Way Out of Sickness!

For more on plagues and leadership, see this recent post.

Aelian, Varia Historia 13.27

“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?”

Ὅτι τὸ Σωκράτους σῶμα πεπίστευτο κόσμιον καὶ σωφροσύνης ἐγκρατὲς γεγονέναι καὶ ταύτῃ. ἐνόσουν Ἀθηναῖοι πανδημεί, καὶ οἱ μὲν ἀπέθνῃσκον, οἱ δὲ ἐπιθανατίως εἶχον, Σωκράτης δὲ μόνος οὐκ ἐνόσησε τὴν ἀρχήν. ὁ τοίνυν τοιούτῳ συνὼν σώματι τίνα ἡγούμεθα ἐσχηκέναι ψυχήν;

Apollonius of Tyana, 8.28

“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.”

“Ἆρ᾿ οὖν τὸ οὕτως διαιτᾶσθαι λεπτότητα μόνον ἐργάζεται τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἢ ἰσχὺν ἐπὶ τὰ μέγιστά τε καὶ θαυμασιώτατα; θεωρεῖν δ᾿ ἔξεστιν ὃ λέγω καὶ ἀπ᾿ ἄλλων μέν, οὐχ ἥκιστα δὲ κἀκ τῶν ἐν Ἐφέσῳ περὶ τὴν νόσον ἐκείνην πραχθέντων· τὸ γὰρ τοῦ λοιμοῦ εἶδος, πτωχῷ δὲ γέροντι εἴκαστο, καὶ εἶδον καὶ ἰδὼν εἷλον, οὐ παύσας νόσον, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξελών, ὅτῳ δ᾿ εὐξάμενος, δηλοῖ τὸ ἱερόν, ὃ ἐν Ἐφέσῳ ὑπὲρ τούτου ἱδρυσάμην, Ἡρακλέους μὲν γὰρ Ἀποτροπαίου ἐστί, ξυνεργὸν δ᾿ αὐτὸν εἱλόμην, ἐπειδὴ σοφός τε καὶ ἀνδρεῖος ὢν ἐκάθηρέ ποτε λοιμοῦ τὴν Ἦλιν, τὰς ἀναθυμιάσεις ἀποκλύσας, ἃς παρεῖχεν ἡ γῆ κατ᾿ Αὐγέαν τυραννεύοντα.

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Statue of a philosopher, probably Apollonius of Tyana. Late 2nd – 3rd century AD.

The Value of Living, Overcome

Pliny, Letters 1.12 [CW: Suicide]

My Dear Calestrius Tiro,

“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.”

    1. 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.

The Younger Pliny Reproved, colorized copperplate print by Thomas Burke (1749–1815) after Angelica Kauffmann; c. 39 x 45 cm

Libanius, Upon Facing Another Monday

Libanius, Autobiography 246

“And the affair followed and these were my fears, leaving me with a desire for nothing but death. And my conversations with everyone nearby were about this as were my prayers to the gods. One who mentioned baths was my enemy; anyone who mentioned dinner was my enemy.

And I fled in exile from the books which contained the classical texts of my toil; I fled from writing and composition of my lectures. I lost my ability to speak even though my students were shouting for me. Whenever I tried, I was taken off track like a boat facing an opposing wind. Even though they harbored hopes of hearing me, I still went silent. My doctors were telling me to seek healing somewhere else because there were no medicines for these kinds of ills in their craft.”

καὶ εἵπετο δὲ τὸ ἔργον, φόβοι τε ἐκεῖνοι καὶ πλὴν τελευτῆς οὐδενὸς ἐπιθυμία. ἀλλὰ περὶ τούτου λόγοι τε πρὸς τοὺς ἀεὶ παρόντας εὐχαί τε πρὸς θεούς. ἐχθρὸς μὲν ὁ λουτροῦ μεμνημένος, ἐχθρὸς δὲ ὁ δείπνου, καὶ φυγὴ ἀπὸ βιβλίων ἐν οἷς οἱ τῶν ἀρχαίων πόνοι, φυγὴ δὲ ἀπὸ γραφῆς τε καὶ ποιήσεως λόγων, κατελέλυτο δὲ τὸ λέγειν, καὶ ταῦτα τῶν νέων βοαῖς τοῦτο ἀπαιτούντων. ὁπότε γὰρ δὴ πρὸς αὐτὸ γιγνοίμην ἀπεφερόμην ὥσπερ ἀκάτιον ἐναντίῳ πνεύματι, καὶ οἱ μὲν εἶχον ἀκροάσεως ἐλπίδας, ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἂν1ἐσίγων. ἰατροὶ δὲ τὴν τούτων ἴασιν ἄλλοθι ζητεῖν ἐκέλευον, ὡς οὐκ ὄντων σφίσι τῶν τοιούτων ἐν τῇ τέχνῃ φαρμάκων.

mondays

Know-nothings, Faith-healers, and Quacks: Mystifying and Abusing Mental Illness

Hippocrates of Cos, The Sacred Disease 1 and 2

“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.”

[…]

Περὶ τῆς ίερῆς νούσου καλεομένης ὧδ᾿ ἔχει. οὐδέν τί μοι δοκεῖ τῶν ἄλλων θειοτέρη εἶναι νούσων οὐδὲ ἱερωτέρη, ἀλλὰ φύσιν μὲν ἔχει καὶ πρόφασιν, οἱ δ᾿ ἄνθρωποι ἐνόμισαν θεῖόν τι πρῆγμα εἶναι ὑπὸ ἀπειρίης καὶ θαυμασιότητος, ὅτι οὐδὲν ἔοικεν ἑτέροισι·

“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.”

Ἐμοὶ δὲ δοκέουσιν οἱ πρῶτοι τοῦτο τὸ νόσημα ἱερώσαντες τοιοῦτοι εἶναι ἄνθρωποι οἷοι καὶ νῦν εἰσι μάγοι τε καὶ καθάρται καὶ ἀγύρται καὶ ἀλαζόνες, οὗτοι δὲ καὶ προσποιέονται σφόδρα θεοσεβέες εἶναι καὶ πλέον τι εἰδέναι. οὗτοι τοίνυν παραμπεχόμενοι καὶ προβαλλόμενοι τὸ θεῖον τῆς ἀμηχανίης τοῦ μὴ ἔχειν ὅ τι προσενέγκαντες ὠφελήσουσι, καὶ ὡς μὴ κατάδηλοι ἔωσιν οὐδὲν ἐπιστάμενοι, ἱερὸν ἐνόμισαν τοῦτο τὸ πάθος εἶναι· καὶ λόγους ἐπιλέξαντες ἐπιτηδείους τὴν ἴησιν κατεστήσαντο ἐς τὸ ἀσφαλὲς σφίσιν αὐτοῖσι,

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”)

 

Galen says loss of speech is not melancholy

Women, misogyny, and suicide

Lykanthropy as a type of melancholy

Hippocrates on melancholic desire for isolation

Hippocrates and Galen on hallucination and depression

The positive side of delusion

Aristotle on Mind-body connection

Music for healing mental affliction

Galen on the use of narcotics

Celsus on abusive treatments for mental illness

Seneca and Epictetus on Sick Days for Mental Health

Seneca and Plutarch on Whether Peace of Mind Helps

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.’ “

ιε′. Πρὸς τοὺς σκληρῶς τισιν ὧν ἔκριναν ἐμμένοντας.

῞Οταν ἀκούσωσί τινες τούτων τῶν λόγων, ὅτι βέβαιον εἶναι δεῖ καὶ ἡ μὲν προαίρεσις ἐλεύθερον φύσει καὶ ἀνανάγκαστον, τὰ δ’ ἄλλα κωλυτά, ἀναγκαστά, δοῦλα, ἀλλότρια, φαντάζονται ὅτι δεῖ παντὶ τῷ κριθέντι ὑπ’ αὐτῶν ἀπαραβάτως ἐμμένειν. ἀλλὰ πρῶτον ὑγιὲς εἶναι δεῖ τὸ κεκριμένον. θέλω γὰρ εἶναι τόνους ἐν σώματι, ἀλλ’ ὡς ὑγιαίνοντι, ὡς ἀθλοῦντι· ἂν δέ μοι φρενιτικοῦ τόνους ἔχων ἐνδεικνύῃ[ς] καὶ ἀλαζονεύῃ ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς, ἐρῶ σοι ὅτι ‘ἄνθρωπε, ζήτει τὸν θεραπεύσοντα. τοῦτο οὐκ εἰσὶ τόνοι, ἀλλ’ ἀτονία’.

 

Image result for ancient greek asclepius relief
Hygeia [“Health”] and her father Asklepios Taken from Pinterest

The Sickness of the Soul: Cicero on Irrational Hate

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.25-6

“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.

Royal 15 D V   f. 107v
2nd half of the 15th century, Royal MS 15 D V, f. 107v

Email to Class: Instructor is Sick; Aurelius: I’m Dying

Marcus Aurelius to Fronto, Lorium 145-7 CE

“My teacher,

You must be messing with me, but you have sent me extraordinary worry and egregious anguish, the most severe pain and the hottest fever with your letter, so that I cannot eat, sleep or even study.

While you might find some relief in your speech today, what can I do when I have lost the pleasure of hearing it and I fear that you may come a bit late to Lorium and I am in pain because you are in pain?

Farewell my teacher, whose health makes my health untroubled and secure.”

| Magistro meo.

Ludis tu quidem, at mihi peramplam anxietatem et summam aegritudinem, <acerbissimum> dolorem, et ignem flagrantissimum litteris his tuis misisti, ne cenare, ne dormire, ne denique studere libeat. Verum tu orationis hodiernae tuae habeas aliquod solacium; at | ego quid faciam? qui et auditionis iam voluptatem consumpsi, et metuo ne Lorium tardiuscule venias, et doleo quod interim doles. Vale, mi magister, cuius salus meam salutem inlibatam et incolumem facit.

Image result for medieval manuscript sick teacher
c. 1480, Yates Thompson 7, f. 174r

Libanius, Upon Facing Another Monday

Libanius, Autobiography 246

“And the affair followed and these were my fears, leaving me with a desire for nothing but death. And my conversations with everyone nearby were about this as were my prayers to the gods. One who mentioned baths was my enemy; anyone who mentioned dinner was my enemy.

And I fled in exile from the books which contained the classical texts of my toil; I fled from writing and composition of my lectures. I lost my ability to speak even though my students were shouting for me. Whenever I tried, I was taken off track like a boat facing an opposing wind. Even though they harbored hopes of hearing me, I still went silent. My doctors were telling me to seek healing somewhere else because there were no medicines for these kinds of ills in their craft.”

καὶ εἵπετο δὲ τὸ ἔργον, φόβοι τε ἐκεῖνοι καὶ πλὴν τελευτῆς οὐδενὸς ἐπιθυμία. ἀλλὰ περὶ τούτου λόγοι τε πρὸς τοὺς ἀεὶ παρόντας εὐχαί τε πρὸς θεούς. ἐχθρὸς μὲν ὁ λουτροῦ μεμνημένος, ἐχθρὸς δὲ ὁ δείπνου, καὶ φυγὴ ἀπὸ βιβλίων ἐν οἷς οἱ τῶν ἀρχαίων πόνοι, φυγὴ δὲ ἀπὸ γραφῆς τε καὶ ποιήσεως λόγων, κατελέλυτο δὲ τὸ λέγειν, καὶ ταῦτα τῶν νέων βοαῖς τοῦτο ἀπαιτούντων. ὁπότε γὰρ δὴ πρὸς αὐτὸ γιγνοίμην ἀπεφερόμην ὥσπερ ἀκάτιον ἐναντίῳ πνεύματι, καὶ οἱ μὲν εἶχον ἀκροάσεως ἐλπίδας, ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἂν1ἐσίγων. ἰατροὶ δὲ τὴν τούτων ἴασιν ἄλλοθι ζητεῖν ἐκέλευον, ὡς οὐκ ὄντων σφίσι τῶν τοιούτων ἐν τῇ τέχνῃ φαρμάκων.

mondays