Melancholy, Medicine, and the Arts
Melancholy, Medicine, and the Arts by Erin Sullivan
In the writings of Aristotle, along with Hippocrates and Galen, the most unpleasant symptoms were often accompanied by depressive states. Seizures, mania, ulcers, abdominal pain, hemorrhoids, lethargy, depression, and fear are symptoms of a melancholic. People with a natural tendency to melancholy often displayed a bit of a radiance that set them apart from the general population. When Renaissance scholars began retranslating and reinterpreting Greek philosophical and medical texts, this link between genius and melancholy found something peculiar in their work. Marsilio Ficino, a 15th-century Italian humanist, made the astrological claim that all people born under Saturn, a planet commonly associated with the contemplative life, were prone to melancholic radiance. This idea greatly influenced other Renaissance thinkers, and artists such as Albrecht Durer began to examine the concept of melancholy in this work.
The word melancholia, or melancholy, comes from the ancient Greek words meaning black bile (melas (black) + kholé (bile)). People with dominant melancholia are greedy, emotional, and indolent, but that is why they were thought to be suitable for studying alone. Because the personification of melancholia before Dürer was often drawn as a sleepy or sleepy figure, it was associated with sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, in the Middle Ages. Therefore, in Dürer's etchings, melancholia appears in a completely different and new form.
In his print Melancholia, Dürer explores the relationship between melancholy, creativity, and knowledge, choosing as a focal point a woman of exceptional talent and inevitably accompanied by ambition.
In the Middle Ages, melancholy, which had negative connotations such as “laziness, gloominess, and drowsiness,” was expressed as “intellectual contemplation, intellect and contemplation” in the Renaissance period by Dürer. The melancholia he expressed is the frustration and melancholy of a mad genius. As Baburg interprets it, it also reflects the solitary self-consciousness of modern man who “started a fight for inner, intellectual, and religious liberation” between ancient beliefs such as astrology and modern consciousness.
In the case of Shakespeare, the most famous melancholy character in Hamlet explores his situation in philosophical rather than medical terms. The word “melancholy” itself appears only twice in the play, and there are few references to humor or other medical concepts. Nonetheless, many scholars characterize the Renaissance as the ‘Golden Age of Melancholy’, a period in which questions abounded about the connection of states to inspiration, frustration, and greatness. In the era of romanticism, artists and writers beautified the experience of melancholy and expressed it through art. According to the Romantic poets, the experience of joy is enhanced rather than diminished by the knowledge of sorrow. As such, the literary beautification of melancholy continued until the 19th century, but attitudes and understandings changed again with the advent of Freudian theory. In his essay Mourning and Melancholia, Sigmund Freud described the condition as a narcissistic disorder stemming from a sense of loss. According to Freud, depression is no longer the result of humoral pathologies, astrological influences, or neurological disorders, but arises from the disadvantages of self-identity that occur at various stages of a person's life.
Myungja Anna Koh