- The Madness of Io
- The Madness of the Daughters of Proetus
- The Madness in the Bacchae of Euripides
- The Madness of Heracles
- The Madness of Ino
- The Madness of Orestes
- The Madness Antigone
- Plato on Madness
- Drunkenness Identified with madness
- Madness and Science
- Illustrations of Madness in Ancient Greece
- Resources about Madness
- Ask a Question about Madness
- Advertisements and Resourses
Madness in ancient Greece is characterized as a condition given by the gods in punishment for violation of some divine law. This does not qualify as a superstition because it is an attempt to apply a causal chain to the condition. In addition the ancient Greeks believed that the gods controlled individual realms and the attempt to assign a particular god meant that the cause was believed to related to the nature of that realm. Once the realm was known then cures could be proposed in terms of prayers to the particula deity, or the provision of charms related to the deity. The charms could be herbs, symbols, or verbal statements. Through the application of herbs the ancient Greeks were able to observe what seemed to them cures of various conditions. The valitity of these observations can be independently verified if the condition can be repeated.
The Madness of Io
Hera sent the gadfly to pester Io because of Zeus’s attraction to her.
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, line 877 , Io- “Oh! Oh! Alas! Once again convulsive pain and frenzy, striking my brain, inflame me. I am stung by the gadfly’s barb,  unforged by fire. My heart knocks at my ribs in terror; my eyeballs roll wildly round and round. I am carried out of my course by a fierce blast of madness; I’ve lost all mastery over my tongue,  and a stream of turbid words beats recklessly against the billows of dark destruction.”
Aeschylus, Suppliant Women, line 311:
So she came to Canobus and to Memphis.
And Zeus begot a son by the touching of his hand.”
The bite of the “Horse-fly”: “The bites may become itchy, sometimes causing a large swelling afterward if not treated quickly.” does not seem sconsistent with Io’s condition. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse-flies) The human botfly occasionally uses humans to host its larvae. The larva, because of its spines, can pose an extremely painful subepidermal condition.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botfly)
The Madness of the Daughters of Proetus
The madness of the Daughters of Proetus was brought on by Hera because they were bostful about their father’s wealth.
Bacchylides, Epinicians, Ode 11, lines 37-110: “But now Artemis of the wilds with her golden distaff, the Soother, famous for the bow, gave him shining victory.  To her once the son of Abas and his daughters with beautiful robes set up an altar where many prayers are offered. All-powerful Hera drove these daughters in fear from the lovely halls  of Proetus; she yoked their minds to a violent maddening compulsion. For, while still virgins, they entered the sanctuary of the purple-belted goddess,  and said that their father far surpassed in wealth the golden-haired consort of holy, widely powerful Zeus. In anger at them, she put a twisted thought into their minds,  and they fled to the wooded mountain with terrible screams, leaving behind the city of Tiryns and its god-built streets. For it was now the tenth year since the heroes with their bronze shields, fearless in battle,  had left Argos, the city loved by the gods, and lived in Tiryns with their much envied king, because an insurmountable quarrel  had arisen, from a slight beginning, between the brothers Proetus and Acrisius. They were destroying their people with lawless feuding and grievous battles, and the people entreated the sons of Abas  that, since they had as their share a land rich in barley, the younger one should be the founder of Tiryns, before they fell under ruinous compulsion. And Zeus son of Cronus, honoring the race of Danaus  and of horse-driving Lynceus, was willing to put an end to their hateful woes. And the mighty Cyclopes came, and toiled to build a most beautiful wall for the glorious city, where the godlike  far-famed heroes lived when they had left behind horse-pasturing Argos. It was from Tiryns that the dark-haired unsubdued daughters of Proetus rushed in their flight.  And woe overcame Proetus’ heart, and an alien thought smote him. He decided to plant a double-edged sword in his chest; but his spearmen restrained him  with calming words and with the force of their hands. For thirteen whole months his daughters roamed wildly through the shadowy forests and fled through sheep-nurturing Arcadia.  But when their father came to the beautiful stream of Lusus, he washed his skin with its water and called on Leto’s daughter with her crimson headdress, the ox-eyed goddess,  stretching his hands to the rays of the steed-swift sun, and asked her to deliver his children from their deranged miserable madness. “I will sacrifice to you twenty  unyoked red oxen.” And the huntress, whose father is the highest god, heard him praying. She persuaded Hera, and stopped the godless mania of the bud-garlanded girls. :”
Proteus affected a cure of his daughters by praying to Artemis and promising a sacrifice. Artemis then arranges the cure with Hera, the original perpetrator. A comparison can be made between the symtoms of these daughters and the actions of the Maenads, the followers of Dionysus. See Euripides, Bacchae
The Madness in the Bacchae of Euripides
In the Bacchae Euripides discusses a feature of madness that characterizes the Greek culture. He states that madness is prophetic.
Euripides, Bacchae, line 298, “But this god is a prophet—for Bacchic revelry and madness have in them much prophetic skill.  For whenever the god enters a body in full force, he makes the frantic to foretell the future.”
Later in that passage he makes reference to the oracle of Delphi and the madness associated with that: “You will see him also on the rocks of Delphi, bounding with torches through the highland of two peaks, leaping and shaking the Bacchic branch, mighty throughout Hellas.” (line 306)
This process may involve the application of a gestalt effect on a random pattern. See Gestalt Psychology.
The Madness of Heracles
Another instance of madness being brought on by the wrath of Hera is to be found in Euripides, Heracles, line 830, “But now that he has accomplished the labors of Eurystheus, Hera wishes to brand him with the guilt of shedding kindred blood by slaying his own children, and I wish it also. Come then, unwed maid, child of black Night, harden your heart relentlessly,  send forth frenzy upon this man, confound his mind even to the slaying of his children, drive him, goad him wildly on his mad career, shake out the sails of death, that when he has conveyed over Acheron’s ferry that fair group of children by his own murderous hand,  he may learn to know how fiercely against him the wrath of Hera burns and may also experience mine; otherwise, if he should escape punishment, the gods will become as nothing, while man’s power will grow.”
The Madness of Ino
Hera is also involved with the madness of Ino in Euripides, Medea, line 1292: “One woman, only one, of all that have been, have I heard of who put her hand to her own children: Ino driven mad by the gods when  Hera sent her forth to wander in madness from the house. The unhappy woman fell into the sea, impiously murdering her children. Stepping over the sea’s edge, she perished with her two children.” This cause of this madness is described at Apollodorus, Library, 3.4.3, “But at the proper time Zeus undid the stitches and gave birth to Dionysus, and entrusted him to Hermes. And he conveyed him to Ino and Athamas, and persuaded them to rear him as a girl. But Hera indignantly drove them mad, and Athamas hunted his elder son Learchus as a deer and killed him, and Ino threw Melicertes into a boiling cauldron,5 then carrying it with the dead child she sprang into the deep.” Hera was mad about Dionysus because he was a result of the sexual union of her husband Zeus and a rival Semele.
The Madness of Orestes
The furies are a cause of the madness of Orestes in Euripides, Orestes, line 412, “Are these the ones (furies) that drive you (Orestes) to frenzy, with the curse of kindred blood?” The furies were goddesses of vengeance who took revenge on people who murdered their parents. Orestes murdered his mother because she had murdered his father Agamemnon. The situation of Orestes is somewhat complicated by the fact that Orestes is somewhat justified in his action since no legal remedy was available to him. Yet the furies had their rules and they followed them to the letter. The madness of Orestes continued until Apollo had Athena intercede and give Orestes a trial. When the trial barely acquitted him Orestes was cured of his madness. Athen had to revise the rules of the Furies so this would not happen again.”
Madness of Antiope
Dionysus causes the madness of Antiope in “Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.17.6, “Bacis calls it the tomb of Phocus for the following reason. The wife of Lycus worshipped Dionysus more than any other deity. When she had suffered what the story says she suffered, Dionysus was angry with Antiope. For some reason extravagant punishments always arouse the resentment of the gods. They say that Antiope went mad, and when out of her wits roamed all over Greece; but Phocus, son of Ornytion, son of Sisyphus, chanced to meet her, cured her madness, and then married her.” One has to wonder if this madness caused by Dionysus was drunkeness. The behavior of Antigone does seem similar to that of the Maenads, priestesses of Dionysus. The treatment applied is not clear but it could have been removal of access to wine.
Plato on Madness
Plato treats madness in his Laws 11.934c, “If any be a madman, he shall not appear openly in the city; the relatives of such persons shall keep them indoors, employing whatever means they know of, or else they shall pay a penalty; a person belonging to the highest property-class shall pay a hundred drachmae, whether the man he is neglecting be a free man or a slave,—one belonging to the second class shall pay four-fifths of a mina—one of the third class, three-fifths,—and one of the fourth class, two-fifths. There are many and various forms of madness: in the cases now mentioned it is caused by disease, but cases also occur where it is due to the natural growth and fostering of an evil temper, by which men in the course of a trifling quarrel abuse one another slanderously with loud cries—” This does not seem a very sympathetic proposal that lacks a reference to the cause of madness by the deities.
Drunkenness Identified with Madness
Drunkenness identified with madness:
Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae, line 138, “Yes, by Artemis, and neat wine too. That’s why their decrees breathe of drunkenness and madness.  And why libations, why so many ceremonies, if wine plays no part in them? Besides, they abuse each other like drunken men, and you can see the archers dragging more than one uproarious drunkard out of the market-place.”
Euripides, Bacchae, line 849, “Dionysus, now it is your job; for you are not far off.  Let us punish him. First drive him out of his wits, send upon him a dizzying madness, since if he is of sound mind he will not consent to wear women’s clothing, but driven out of his senses he will put it on.”
Madness and Science
It is in actual fact not until the time of the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BC) that madness first became an object of scientific speculation.
Illustrations of Madness in Ancient Greece
- Plaque with two women, ca. 650–600 b.c.; Archaic Greek
- Two satyrs and a maenad
- The madness of Heracles
- Madness in Greek Tragedy
- History of mental disorders
- Mind and Madness in Ancient Greece: The Classical Roots of Modern Psychiatry Paperback by Bennett Simon
- Divine Madness in Ancient Greece