Essay on Madness As A Curse From The Gods

Essay on Madness As A Curse From The Gods

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Within Greek mythology, madness was often perceived as being a curse from the Gods. Scull highlights that, within Greek drama and Homeric myth, madness is a symptom of machinations of the Gods, but also a symptom of the agonies of guilt and responsibility, the conflicts thrown up by duty and desire, the unshakeable effects of shame and grief, the demands of honor and the disastrous impact of hubris. The Greek tragedies dramatize these elemental conflicts of mind – either a hero or a heroine, tormented as a plaything of the gods or the demands of a love rival. Porter argues that in Greek drama and mythology “the inescapable result is madness: they go out of their minds, raging and rampaging utterly out of control”, such as in the tragedy of Medea, when she murders her children in a jealous rage to exact revenge on her husband for leaving her for another woman, or in the myth of Heracles, when Hera punishes Heracles by sending madness upon him for being the son of Zeus to a mortal woman and, when he is struck mad, he kills his own wife and children, then embarking on his famous twelve labors as penance. For the Greeks, madness is not the punishment in itself – it is an instrument of the punishment, for the pain caused by the acts committed by a person who is struck by madness is the true punishment. Madness as a divine punishment is a thread which runs through many myths. The madness may be the punishment itself, or the instrument of punishment, such as with Heracles. Treatment of mental illness in ancient times often had untenable links to religion – as people who were observed to have been struck with madness were considered as being punished by the gods or possessed by demons, many treatments were aimed towards clearing the patie...


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...e regarded as either intensely religious or mad – Scull highlights that the Hebrew for “to behave like a prophet” can also be represented as “to rave” or “to act like one beside himself”. In the New Testament, madness is perceived as a battle over an individual’s soul by the Holy Ghost and the Devil, resulting in mental disturbances such as despair, anguish, hysteria and melancholy– Westerink argues that it was in this Testament that the devil became “a cunning seducer in disguise”, a character which divided and estranged the follower from God, inciting feelings of godlessness and causing despair, sadness and melancholy. Jesus Christ is also regularly depicted in casting out demons – seven times in the case of Mary Magdalene. Porter highlights that “unclean spirits” were to be treated by spiritual means, such as in masses, exorcism, pilgrimage and reading the Bible.

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