Mental Illness in Ancient Medicine

From Celsus to Paul of Aegina


In Mental Illness in Ancient Medicine: From Celsus to Paul of Aegina a detailed account is given, by a range of experts in the field, of the development of different conceptualizations of the mind and its pathology by medical authors from the beginning of the imperial period to the seventh century CE.

New analysis is offered, both of the dominant texts of Galen and of such important but neglected figures as Rufus, Archigenes, Athenaeus of Attalia, Aretaeus, Caelius Aurelianus and the Byzantine 'compilers'. The work of these authors is considered both in its medical-historical context and in relation to philosophical and theological debates - on ethics and on the nature of the soul - with which they interacted.

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Biographical Note

P. N. Singer, Ph.D. (1993) Cambridge University, is a Wellcome Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. He has published major translations and commentaries on Galen (OUP and CUP), and articles on Graeco-Roman philosophy and medicine, especially on the psyche.

C. Thumiger, Ph.D. (2004) KCL London, is a classicist and historian of ancient medicne. She is currently Wellcome Research Fellow at the University of Warwick, engaging with a project on the ancient disease phrenitis, has published variously on ancient medicine, history of mental disorders, and Greek tragedy as well as other areas of ancient cultural history.

Contributors are: Marke Ahonen, Sean Coughlin, Julien Devinant, Ricarda Gäbel, Christopher Gill, Ricardo Julião, George Kazantzidis, Melinda Letts, Orly Lewis, Nadine Metzger, P. N. Singer, Chiara Thumiger, and Anna Maria Urso.

Review Quotes

“The editors succeed in every way in presenting a thought-provoking and at the same time approachable volume, which will surely appeal to a readership of both experts and enthusiasts.” By Michaela Senkova in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.02.06

Table of contents



Primary Texts and Abbreviations

Introduction. Disease Classification and Mental Illness: Ancient and Modern Perspectives
Chiara Thumiger and P. N. Singer

Part 1 Broader Reflections on Mental Illness: Medical Theories in their Socio-Intellectual Context

1 Between Insanity and Wisdom: Perceptions of Melancholy in the Ps.-Hippocratic Letters 10–17
George Kazantzidis

2 “Not a Daimōn, but a Severe Illness”: Oribasius, Posidonius and Later Ancient Perspectives on Superhuman Agents Causing Disease
Nadine Metzger

Part 2 Individual Authors and Themes

3 Athenaeus of Attalia on the Psychological Causes of Bodily Health
Sean Coughlin

4 Archigenes of Apamea’s Treatment of Mental Diseases
Orly Lewis

5 Mental Perceptions and Pathology in the Work of Rufus of Ephesus
Melinda Letts

6 Mental Disorders and Psychological Suffering in Galen’s Cases
Julien Devinant

7 Galen on Memory, Forgetting and Memory Loss
Ricardo Julião

8 Stomachikon, Hydrophobia and Other Eating Disturbances: Volition and Taste in Late-Antique Medical Discussions
Chiara Thumiger

9 “A Most Acute, Disgusting and Indecent Disease”: Satyriasis and Sexual Disorders in Ancient Medicine
Chiara Thumiger

10 Mental Derangement in Methodist Nosography: What Caelius Aurelianus Had to Say
Anna Maria Urso

11 Mental Illnesses in the Medical Compilations of Late Antiquity: The Case of Aëtius of Amida
Ricarda Gäbel

Part 3 Philosophy and Mental Illness

12 Making the Distinction: The Stoic View of Mental Illness
Marke Ahonen

13 Philosophical Psychological Therapy: Did It Have Any Impact on Medical Practice?
Christopher Gill

14 Galen’s Pathological Soul: Diagnosis and Therapy in Ethical and Medica
l Texts and Contexts

P. N.  Singer


All interested in Graeco-Roman medicine, physiology and anatomy, in the history of philosophical and medical psychological theories, in history of psychiatry and in ethics in the Roman imperial period.