Diseases of the Black Bile

Jennifer Radden

in The Nature of Melancholy

Published in print April 2002 | ISBN: 9780195151657
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849253 | DOI:
Diseases of the Black Bile

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This chapter presents Galen's discussion of melancholy. Court physician to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, Galen of Pergamum (or Pergamos) stands as one of the two most influential Greek physicians of the Roman era. Until the 16th century his treatises were regarded as medical orthodoxy, and, despite his own indisputable contributions, especially in anatomy and physiology, his work served to discourage original investigation and scientific progress. Galen's On the Affected Parts, whose third book is devoted to the function and diseases of the brain and spinal cord, contains a chapter on melancholia. Following Hippocrates, Aristotle, and other authorities who preceded him, Galen emphasizes the subjective states of fear and despondency attending melancholia. He also reiterates and develops two distinct associations with darkness: the color of the humor, which for him means the sooty or smoke-like vapor resulting from the overheated, atrabilious blood “clouding” the activities of the brain; and the coloring of those likely to suffer from melancholia (“lean persons with a darker complexion”).

Keywords: Galen; melancholia; melancholy; Greek physicians; fear

Chapter.  3932 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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