Mental Disorders in the Classical World


The historians, classicists and psychiatrists who have come together to produce Mental Disorders in the Classical World aim to explain how the Greeks and their Roman successors conceptualized, diagnosed and treated mental disorders. The Greeks initiated the secular understanding of mental illness, and have left us a large body of penetrating and thought-provoking writing on the subject, ranging in time from Homer to the sixth century AD. With the conceptual basis of modern psychiatry once again under intense debate, we need to learn from other rational approaches even when they lack modern scientific underpinnings. Meanwhile this volume adds a rich chapter to the cultural and medical history of antiquity. The contributors include a high proportion of the best-regarded scholars in this field, together with papers by some of its rising stars.
Restricted Access


EUR €174.00USD $238.00

Biographical Note

W.V. Harris is Shepherd Professor of History at Columbia University and Director of the university's Center for the Ancient Mediterranean. He has written widely on psychological aspects of ancient history. In 2008 he received a Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award, which has helped to finance research into mental disorders in antiquity. Contributors: Véronique Boudon-Millot, Christoper Gill, W.V. Harris, Brooke Holmes, Julian C. Hughes, Jacques Jouanna, George Kazantzidis, Helen King, David Konstan, Roberto Lo Presti, Glenn W. Most, Vivian Nutton, Peter Pormann, Suzanne Said, Maria Michela Sassi, Bennett Simon, Chiara Thumiger, Jerry Toner, Peter Toohey, Philip van der Eijk, and Katja Vogt.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements List of Contributors List of Abbreviations INTRODUCTORY I. William V. Harris, Thinking about Mental Disorders in Classical Antiquity CURRENT PROBLEMS IN THE CLASSIFICATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS II. Bennett Simon, 'Carving Nature at the Joints': the Dream of a Perfect Classification of Mental Illness III. Julian C. Hughes, If Only the Ancients Had Had the DSM, All Would Have Been Crystal Clear: Reflections on Diagnosis GREEK CLASSIFICATIONS IV. Chiara Thumiger, The Early Greek Medical Vocabulary of Insanity: Semantics and Distribution V. Jacques Jouanna and Véronique Boudon-Millot, The Typology and Etiology of Madness in Ancient Greek Medical and Philosophical Writing VI. Vivian Nutton, Galenic Madness VII. Véronique Boudon-Millot, What Is a Mental Illness, and how Can it Be Treated? Galen’s Reply as a Doctor and Philosopher VIII. Brooke Holmes, Disturbing Connections: Sympathetic Affections, Mental Disorder, and the Elusive Soul in Galen IX. Katja Maria Vogt, Plato on Madness and the Good Life PARTICULAR SYNDROMES X. Roberto Lo Presti, Mental Disorder and the Perils of Definition: Characterizing Epilepsy in Greek Scientific Discourse (5th-4th Centuries B.C.E.) XI. Peter E. Pormann, Medical Epistemology and Melancholy: Rufus of Ephesus and Miskawayh XII. George Kazantzidis, 'Quem nos furorem, μελαγχολίαν illi vocant': Cicero on Melancholy XIII. Helen King, Fear of Flute Girls, Fear of Falling SYMPTOMS, CURES AND THERAPY XIV. William V. Harris, Greek and Roman Hallucinations XV. Philip van der Eijk, Cure and the (In)curability of Mental Disorders in Ancient Medical and Philosophical Thought XVI. Christopher Gill, Philosophical Therapy as Preventive Psychological Medicine FROM HOMER TO ATTIC TRAGEDY XVII. Suzanne Said, From Homeric ate to Tragic Madness XVIII. Glenn W. Most, The Madness of Tragedy MENTAL DISORDERS AND RESPONSIBILITY XIX. Maria Michela Sassi, Mental Illness, Moral Error, and Responsibility in Late Plato XX. David Konstan, The Rhetoric of the Insanity Plea A ROMAN CODA XXI. Peter Toohey, Madness in the Digest XXII. J. P. Toner, The Psychological Impact of Disasters in the Age of Justinian Bibliography Index


This book will be important for historians of medicine and of classical culture, but also for all practising psychiatrists who are willing to cross cultural boundaries and/or think about the intellectual basis of current practices.