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Melancholy, Love, and Time

Boundaries of the Self in Ancient Literature

Peter Toohey

Publication Year: 2004

Ancient literature features many powerful narratives of madness, depression, melancholy, lovesickness, simple boredom, and the effects of such psychological states upon individual sufferers. Peter Toohey turns his attention to representations of these emotional states in the Classical, Hellenistic, and especially the Roman imperial periods in a study that illuminates the cultural and aesthetic significance of this emotionally charged literature. His probing analysis shows that a shifting representation of these afflicted states, and the concomitant sense of isolation from one's social affinities and surroundings, manifests a developing sense of the self and self-consciousness in the ancient world. This book makes important contributions to a variety of disciplines including classical studies, comparative literature, literary and art history, history of medicine, history of emotions, psychiatry, and psychology. Peter Toohey is Professor and Department Head of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Calgary, Canada.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. iii

List of Figures

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p. ix

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pp. 1-11

"The expostulation by Burton that serves as the epigraph for this introduction has often been leveled at me because of my interest in the subject of melancholy and boredom. It has been sometimes assumed that I am subject to the emotions myself or that I am the victim of a misplaced and pedantic obscurantism..."

I. Blurring the Boundaries of the Self

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1. Sorrow without Cause: Periodizing Melancholia and Depression

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pp. 15-58

"If we did not know that it was Orestes and had not noticed that he had a sword in his hand, then we would say that the male seated in the center of the representation in figure 1 was bored. That is the usual first reaction to the painting of Orestes by the Eumenides Painter on this fourth-century B.C.E. red-figure..."

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2. Medea's Lovesickness: Eros and Melancholia

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pp. 59-103

"Erotic infatuation is violent. Love comes unexpectedly and overwhelms its victim. Its attack brings speechlessness, swooning, silence, blushing, insomnia, the sweats, and weeping.1 It vanquishes the strongest of wills. When eros remains..."

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3. Seasickness: Boredom, Nausia, and the Self

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pp. 104-131

"The image in figure 3, from a Greek pot (termed a white-ground lekythos) of the mid- to late fifth century B.C.E., depicts a person mourning, either over the remains of a friend or, more likely, over the person’s own remains.1 These are contained in the identical pot by the right knee (another lekythos—a mirror of the one we are looking at).2 I have often showed this picture to people who are..."

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4. Acedia: Madness and the Epidemiology of Individuality

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pp. 132-157

"Herbert Basedow was a medical officer who worked among the Aboriginals of central, western, and northwestern Australia toward the end of the nineteenth century. He was also an amateur anthropologist and linguist. He recorded many firsthand descriptions of Australia Aboriginal behavior and customs in..."

II. Remapping the Boundaries of the Self

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5. The Myth of Suicide: Volitional Independence and Problematized Control in the First Century C. E.

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pp. 161-196

"People do not kill themselves because they are depressed or lovesick or bored or in pain—that is, not unless they are characters in fiction. They kill themselves because they are ill, with manic depression, for example, or schizophrenia. Their deaths are usually swift, private, and accomplished without..."

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6. Time's Passing: Catastrophes, Trimalchio, and Melancholy

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pp. 197-221

"There are two possible ways of viewing the passage of time: that everything is in a state of constant and unrecognizable change. And everything remains unchanged. There it is, the supreme contradiction. Linear time and circular time. Linear time is envisaged as a huge, endless knife-blade scraping its way across the universe . . . Circular time sees the world as remaining..."

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7. Passing Time: Hunting, Poetry, and Leisure

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pp. 222-257

"Preserved for us on an amphora in the Vatican Museum under the name of the black-figure painter Exekias (fig. 8) is a remarkable evocation of ancientleisure.1 Two men, the greatest of the Greek warriors at Troy, sit opposite one another playing at a game on a board. These warriors are Achilles and Ajax.The scene in Exekias’s painting takes place during the Trojan War. It is situated..."

III. The Alienated Personality

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8. The Mirror Stage: Hostius Quadra and the Alienated Self

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pp. 261-282

"In the last portion of the first book of his tract on natural history, the Natural Questions, Seneca examines the physical properties of mirrors. The discussion climaxes unexpectedly with a fabella describing how mirrors can be put to evil..."

Appendix: Giorgio de Chirico, Time, Odysseus, Melancholy, and Intestinal Disorder with Kathleen Toohey

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pp. 283-294


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pp. 295-352


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pp. 353-374


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pp. 375-386

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025596
E-ISBN-10: 0472025597
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472113026
Print-ISBN-10: 047211302X

Page Count: 394
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 646570541
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Melancholy, Love, and Time

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Time in literature.
  • Love in literature.
  • Mythology, Classical, in literature.
  • Classical literature -- History and criticism.
  • Psychology in literature.
  • Melancholy in literature.
  • Alienation (Social psychology) in literature.
  • Self in literature.
  • Depression, Mental, in literature.
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