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The Madmen of the Greek Theatre

  • J. R. Gasquet

In striking contrast to the frequent introduction of madness into their plays by the tragedians, is the rarity of any allusion to it by the great comic writer of Athens. This is not due, as might be supposed, to any feeling that good taste would be violated by putting so terrible an affliction as insanity on the stage in a ludicrous light. The marvellous genius of Aristophanes was bound by none of our modern canons of delicacy; while no flight of fancy was too high for him, no depth of coarseness was too base; and he, who in his satire was no respecter of gods or men, was not likely to refrain from putting the antics of a madman before his audience, if he thought it would serve his purpose.

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* “Vespae,” vv 86–132.

Ctesias, speaking of this very time, says, that when hellebore was given in the days of his father and grandfather, patients were prepared for it as for some great danger, and of those who took it, many died, and few recovered. (Ap. Oribas., viii. 8). See too Hippocrates, Coacae, 568–570.

Koρvβavτιãv was one of the words used for furious madness, as bacchari was in Latin afterwards. See Plato, Ion, p. 533 e.; and a very curious parallel (in Leges vii., p. 790 d.) between the treatment of the Corybantes, and the rocking and singing a child to sleep.

* Richter, one of the recent editors of this play, has quite missed the point He says, “Fallitur, opinor, scholiasta, de expiandis sacris quibusdam insania cogitans…. De sacris Corybantum noster non cogitat, ubi horum meminit, sed de temulentia atque ebrietate, quae cum Liberi sacris communicant.”

Smith's Dicty., art., Æsculapius. and the authorities there quoted.

Études Cliniques, i., p. 515; Mal. Mentales, p. 23.

§ Ex. gr., óvχ #x1F7A;γ#x1F30;ívεiv (perhaps the commonest) κaκoδaιμovãv, διαϕoιβãv, μελaγχoλιãv, κoχvβavτιãv, τòv #x1F73;γκ#x1F73;ϕaλov σεσ#x1F73;ισθaι, &c.

* It is singular that, besides Cambyses (who was not a Greek), the only lunatic mentioned by Herodotus was Cleomenes, one of the Kings of Sparta, and who came, therefore, of a race which had been most carefully perpetuated.

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0368-315X
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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The Madmen of the Greek Theatre

  • J. R. Gasquet
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