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Heidi Northwood Nazareth College of Rochester hmnorthw naz. This is theoretically problematic since the melancholic constitution was by definition a constitution in which there was a natural preponderance of black bile. Thus, there appear to be two incompatible means that are descriptive of the ideal in ancient Greek medicine: the isonomic mean that underlies the ideal healthy state, and the melancholic mean that describes the melancholic who is capable of greatness. This paper attempts to understand the melancholic mean as described in Problema XXX. A reconciliation of the two somatic ideals is argued for on the basis of what else is said in the Problema , as well as ideas found in the Hippocratic work Airs, Waters, Places and other Aristotelian Problemata. Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly of an atrabilious temperament, and some of them to such an extent as to be affected by diseases caused by black bile, as is said to have happened to Heracles among the heroes? Problemata XXX. Why indeed! The atrabilious temperament or melancholia is, according to Aristotle, a natural disposition in which there is a preponderance of black bile over the other humours. The healthy somatic ideal, however, was conceived by Greek medical theorists as the equality of the humours, either with respect to their quantity or their relative strengths quality ; disease was by definition an excess of one of the humours or elements.
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Heidi Northwood Nazareth College of Rochester hmnorthw naz. This is theoretically problematic since the melancholic constitution was by definition a constitution in which there was a natural preponderance of black bile. Thus, there appear to be two incompatible means that are descriptive of the ideal in ancient Greek medicine: the isonomic mean that underlies the ideal healthy state, and the melancholic mean that describes the melancholic who is capable of greatness.

This paper attempts to understand the melancholic mean as described in Problema XXX. A reconciliation of the two somatic ideals is argued for on the basis of what else is said in the Problema , as well as ideas found in the Hippocratic work Airs, Waters, Places and other Aristotelian Problemata. Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly of an atrabilious temperament, and some of them to such an extent as to be affected by diseases caused by black bile, as is said to have happened to Heracles among the heroes?

Problemata XXX. Why indeed! The atrabilious temperament or melancholia is, according to Aristotle, a natural disposition in which there is a preponderance of black bile over the other humours. The healthy somatic ideal, however, was conceived by Greek medical theorists as the equality of the humours, either with respect to their quantity or their relative strengths quality ; disease was by definition an excess of one of the humours or elements.

If the ideal state with respect to the humours was equality or isonomic proportion, but "all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts The explicit association of melancholia with genius is found for the first time in this Problema.

The author was working within a long tradition that linked the ideal state with a mean. According to some thinkers, the mean was conceived simply as kairos , or due measure; in other authors this mean was numericized, and thus conceived as a proportion or ratio between two or more opposites logos , summetria , harmonia , isonomia , etc. Wherever the idea of a mean is found whether it be in writings on ethics, medicine, rhetoric, the crafts, cosmology, music, geometry , it describes the state at which one should aim the virtuous, health, beauty, etc.

While it doesn't strike me as strange that genius be characterized as a mean given that so many other ideal states in Greek thought were so characterized , what I do find puzzling and interesting is that melancholia is, by definition, an excess compared to the state of health. This discrepancy wouldn't be at all strange if health had been defined simply as the 'normal'. After all, the normal is just what is common, and of course melancholic geniuses weren't common.

In this case, the genius, as a mean, would be the ideal, and health, as a mean, would really just be constitutive of mediocrity. But health wasn't mediocrity! Being healthy was something that was very difficult to achieve in the ancient world indeed it still is.

Health was something to strive for, something fleeting and valued. As Ludwig Edelstein wrote, "The balance of health could necessarily never be permanently sustained, but attained only for the moment"; " For health [had] no being but [was] a continuous becoming". Perhaps because of the long-standing tradition that associated ideal states with a mean, the author of the Problema XXX. For as men differ in appearance not because they possess a face but because they possess such and such a face, some handsome, others ugly, others with nothing extraordinary about it hoi de methen echontes peritton i.

For if their melancholy habitus is quite undiluted they are too melancholy; but if it is somewhat tempered they are outstanding perittoi. Melancholia, as it is described in this Problem, is an excess of black bile. Everyone has some black bile, but the melancholic has too much of it. Further black bile is the carrier of the qualities of hot and cold in the body, and it itself is very variable. Since black bile is prone to great fluctuations in temperature, and it is the temperature of the black bile that affects, more than anything else, the character a33 , there is great variety in the temperaments of melancholics.

On the one hand, those melancholics whose black bile is very cold by nature are "dull and stupid" nothroi kai moroi , whereas melancholics who have a large quantity of very hot black bile become "frenzied, or clever or erotic or easily moved to anger and desire" a In between the overheatedness of the soothsayer and overly chilled dull melancholic is the melancholic genius whose temperature is a mean between theirs. There are two passages in the Problema XXX. I shall quote both and then examine two possible models of this mean and the relative explanatory virtues of each model.

The first of these two passages provides evidence that indeed, the author of this Problema did conceive of a certain form of melancholia as both a mean and an ideal insofar as the affected was superior to others in many respects. The second passage gives us the same impression. Melancholia, the author writes, even though it is so variable anomalian , can be 'well-tempered' eukraton and favourable kalos , and thus all melancholics have 'remarkable gifts'.

The Greek word here translated as 'remarkable gifts' is perittos , and the English 'outstanding' or 'out of the ordinary' may be closer to the original meaning. Regardless of whether perittos is used positively or negatively, it means an excess, not a deficiency. We are thus working with a melancholic 'mean' that is on the excessive side of the isonomic, healthy state, not the deficient.

That this is what the author envisioned is confirmed in passage 1 where he writes that it is those melancholics in whom the black bile's excessive heat is 'relaxed towards a mean' who are superior. Therefore it is those melancholics who are more prone to fits of frenzy and divine inspiration than those who are dull and stupid who are by nature closer to the melancholic mean. As I see it, there are two possible models for this favourable melancholic mean that is excessive of the isonomic proportion.

On the one hand, passage 1 suggests that the gifted melancholic's black bile is just slightly hotter than the normal person's: "the black bile's excessive heat is relaxed towards a mean" or "the excessive heat dies down to a mean temperature. On either alternative, however, the favourable melancholic state is excessive of the healthy mean.

I shall call this model the 'Just a little off the mark' model. This model fits passage 1 rather well. On this view, the favourable melancholic temperament is characterized by a state conceived as a mean or otherwise that has too much black bile, and whose temperature is just slightly hotter than the isonomic healthy state. And there are benefits to having a temperature slightly warmer than the isonomic mean.

Given the chilling effects of many environmental influences, being a 'warm' melancholic will have a net result of balancing the external cold. Moreover, Aristotle believed that having more warmth in the region around the heart was conducive to a more active imagination. This model is also compatible with the beginning of passage 2. The elucidation of what the author meant by eukraton and kalon when applied to the melancholic state, however, makes the 'Just a little off the mark' model of melancholic genius inadequate.

Explaining how these terms can be applied to the melancholic state, the author wrote,. Far from being a static mixture of hot and cold that is slightly excessive of the isonomic healthy mean, the favourable melancholic constitution appears to have wide fluctuations in the heat of its black bile. Furthermore, the author of the Problema wrote that these temperature fluctuations occur ' just as required ' hopou dei.

With the 'Just a little off the mark' model, there appears to be no way to understand this. If the melancholic mean is a static mixture of humours in which the black bile is slightly hotter than it should be, then there is no room for now hotter and now colder black bile, and the meaning of 'the temperature changing "just as required"' is obscure.

One final point about the 'Just a little off the mark' model of the melancholic mean. We must recall the problem that the author posed for himself at the beginning of XXX. The author is attempting to explain why a slight preponderance of hot black bile is favourable, indeed even desirable.

And he is, in passage 2 , giving us an explanation of the physiological mechanism or principle that leads the melancholic to greatness.

If this static model of the melancholic mean is correct, then it would seem that the gifted melancholic is always just a little hotter than the healthy ratio.

Slightly heated black bile will explain a more vivid imagination, but this, presumably would also be caused by living in a slightly cool climate.

This model, it seems then, cannot explain why the melancholic is exceptional. It is clear that we need an explanation that will account for the variability of the melancholic's mean as suggested in passage 2 , and his or her greatness. Let's look at passage 2 further. In passage 2 the author wrote that the gifted melancholic has a mixture that is sometimes hotter, sometimes colder.

What possible benefit could this sort of temperature variability give to the melancholic? In order to answer this question, we must look at a passage found early in Problema XXX.

The author, in a discussion of the behaviour of melancholics in different sorts of situations, wrote:. Such a constitution makes for great differences in behaviour in dangerous situations in that many of these people react inconsistently in frightening circumstances; for according to the condition of their bodies at a given time in relation to their temperament, they behave now one way now another Melancholics are, by nature, susceptible to great temperature variations.

The author goes on to give examples of the variable reactions to situations given different temperatures of the black bile. For example, if something fearful occurs when the black bile is cold, the individual will be very cowardly. The reason is that the pre-existing cool state of the black bile is made even colder by fear. Fear has a chilling effect, and indeed, cowardliness is associated with cold black bile.

The association of fear with cold is backed up by empirical evidence: people who are cold tremble, and so too do those who are frightened. Therefore, a hotter than normal constitution can be beneficial to an individual in some situations, i. What these examples suggest is that a melancholic whose black bile is slightly hotter than normal will be better equipped to function in some situations.

The temperature of the black bile is extremely susceptible to environmental influence. When these influences have chilling effects, the melancholic's hotness will counteract the external coldness, and the result will be black bile with a moderate temperature, and consequently, behaviour and an emotional state that is useful, desirable or ideal. Such is the author's explanation of why warmer than normal black bile is beneficial. What, then, of his claim that it is melancholics' susceptibility to be now in a warmer condition, now colder or vice versa, " just as required " that gives them their outstandingness?

From this assertion in passage 2 , it would appear that there are benefits to being slightly colder than normal, even though cold black bile has already been associated with despondency, stupidity, etc. While the author gives no explicit examples of favourable cold states of black bile-indeed, cold black bile is only associated with undesirable states in this Problem-there will, presumably, be environmental influences that make a person too hot, influences that should be tempered; it would seem plausible that having a cool disposition in the face of very hot environmental influences would be beneficial in that, like the case of the hot disposition facing the cooling effects of fear, a moderate temperature will ultimately result.

Take the case of Socrates, who is mentioned explicitly in this Problema as having a melancholic disposition. We know that he was mentally outstanding and courageous, both qualities that could be explained by slightly excessive heat. But we also read in the Symposium a and elsewhere that he was supposedly unaffected by wine.

This is one of the things that makes him exceptional in the eyes of Alcibiades. Now, we know that the Greeks believed wine to have a heating effect on the body. If this were so, the natural heating effects of the wine would be counteracted by Socrates' coolness, and he would thus not be prone to the usual excessive talkativeness, boisterousness and frenzy of drinking bouts.

This, then, is one example of the potential positive effects of a cool-ish internal temperature. If he were, he would be dull and stupid instead of courageous and clever. Therefore, it is clearly beneficial to have this variability of internal temperature so that one can counteract whatever environmental effects are prevalent "just as required". So far so good. But a question remains: How can the melancholic genius do this? It appears that the ideal melancholic has some sort of regulating principle that keeps the temperature for the most part slightly above the isonomic ratio, but yet also allows it to be sometimes hotter and sometimes colder, depending on what external factors need to be counteracted.



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