In a number of his writings Aristotle discusses a type of people he calls ‘the melancholics’ (hoi melancholikoi), without ever giving a definition of melancholy; indeed he does not even mention the term melancholia. He only mentions, in passing, some typical features of a melancholic, sometimes adding a short psychological or physiological explanation, yet without relating these features to each other or to an underlying physiological theory. There is just one chapter (30.1) of the Problemata physica (Pr.), a collection of knowledge attributed to Aristotle, that contains a rather extensive discussion of melancholy. However, it is unlikely that the form in which this collection has come down to us dates back to Aristotle. Recent scholarship has attributed the theory in this chapter to Theophrastus rather than Aristotle; according to Diogenes Laertius (5.44), Theophrastus wrote a treatise ‘On Melancholy’ (Peri melancholias) and the chapter in the Problemata is thought to be a summary or a revised version of this (lost) text.
So far no attempt has been made to describe Aristotle's concept of melancholy as based on his undisputed works, and to compare it to the theory presented in Pr. 30.1. Yet such an attempt could be useful, both because it would be the only way to provide a solid basis for assessing the theory presented in the Problemata, and because attempts to relate this theory to pre-Aristotelian, especially medical views have proved unsuccessful. Despite extensive research, the concept of melancholy in the Hippocratic Corpus remains a complicated issue.
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