chapter  7
16 Pages

MELANCHOLY

Between gods and monsters

But this is not the whole story. There is a significant counter-movement of thought on the subject. By this second account, melancholy is celebrated as

a condition of contemplative wisdom. Here we are presented with the noble face of Kronos – or Saturn in Latin – freed from the vicissitudes of the temporal world and providing a basis for deeper insight into the hidden truth of things. This positive reading corresponds, philosophically, with the ancient Aristotelian association of melancholy with inspired heroes (Ajax, Hercules and the wandering God, Belerophon) or wise men (Empedocles, Socrates and Plato himself). In his treatise, ‘The Notion of Melancholy: Problem XXX, I’, Aristotle began by asking ‘Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholics . . .?’.3 Attributed thus to noble figures, melancholy was considered by some as the ‘disease of heroes’, carrying with it a certain ‘nimbus of sinister sublimity’ and even, at times, a kind of divine vision (theia mania).4 As Panovsky and Klibansky observe in their momental study, Saturn and Melancholy:

Thus it came about that, associated with the myths, the melancholic disposition began to be regarded as, in some degree, heroic; it was idealized still further when equated with ‘frenzy’ (mania), inasmuch as the ‘humor melancholicus’ began to figure as a source, however dangerous, of the highest spiritual exaltation, as soon as the notion of frenzy itself was interpreted (or rather, reinterpreted) in this way.5