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Melancholia (Greek μελαγχολία), in contemporary usage, is a mood disorder of non-specific depression, characterized by low levels of enthusiasm and low levels of eagerness for activity. In a modern context, "melancholy" applies only to the mental or emotional symptoms of depression or despondency; historically, "melancholia" could be physical as well as mental, and melancholic conditions were classified as such by their common cause rather than by their properties. Similarly, melancholia in ancient usage also encompassed mental disorders which would later be differentiated as schizophrenias or bipolar disorders.
History[edit | edit source]
The name "melancholia" comes from the old medical theory of the four humours: disease being caused by an imbalance in one or other of the four basic bodily fluids, or humours. Personality types were similarly determined by the dominant humour in a particular person. Melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile; hence the name, which means 'black bile' (Greek μελας, melas, "black", + χολη, kholé, "bile"); a person whose constitution tended to have a preponderance of black bile had a melancholic disposition. See also: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric
Melancholia was described as a distinct disease with particular mental and physical symptoms as early as the 5th and 4th century BCHippocrates, in his Aphorisms, characterized all "fears and despondencies, if they last a long time" as being symptomatic of melancholia.
Burton wrote in the 16th century that music and dance were critical in treating mental illness, especially melancholia. In November 2006, Dr. Michael J. Crawford  and his colleagues again found that music therapy helped the outcomes of Schizophrenic patients. 
Melancholy in Arab culture[edit | edit source]
The Arabic word found as 'ḥuzn' and 'ḥazan' in the Qur'an and 'hüzün' in modern Turkish, refer to the pain and sorrow over a loss, death of relatives in the case of the Qur'an. Two schools further interpreted this feeling. The first sees it as a sign that one is too attached to the material world, while Sufism took it to represent a feeling of personal insuffiency, that one was not getting close enough to God and did not or could not do enough for God in this world. In this case, a lack of ability to feel 'ḥuzn' is itself a reason for 'ḥuzn'. In  it is elaborated on the added meaning 'hüzün' has acquired in Turkish. Here, it denotes a sense of failure in life, lack of initiative and to retreat into oneself, symptoms quite similar to melancholia. According to  it has been a defining character of cultural works from Istanbul, much as melancholia has inspired art in the west.
As a parallel with physicians of classical Greece, ancient Arabic physicians also categorized 'ḥuzn' as a disease. Al-Kindi (c. 801–873 CE) links it with disease-like mental states like anger, passion, hatred and depression, while Avicenna (980 - 1037 CE) diagnosed 'ḥuzn' in a lovesick man if his pulse increased drastically when the name of the girl he loved was spoken.  Avicenna discuss, in remarkable similarity with Robert Burton, causes like fear of death, intrigues, love, and food and treatments combining medicine and philosophy. Including rational thought, morale, discipline, fasting and coming to terms with the catastrophe.
The various uses of 'ḥuzn' and 'hüzün' thus describe melancholy from a certain vantage point, show similarities with Female hysteria in the case of Avicenna's patient and in a religious context it is not unlike sloth, which by Dante was defined as "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul.". Thomas Aquinas described sloth as "an oppressive sorrow, which, to wit, so weighs upon man's mind, that he wants to do nothing". 
The cult of melancholia[edit | edit source]
During the early 17th century, a curious cultural and literary cult of melancholia arose in England. It was believed that religious uncertainties caused by the English Reformation and a greater attention being paid to issues of sin, damnation, and salvation, led to this effect.
In music, the post-Elizabethan cult of melancholia is associated with [[John Dowland, whose motto was Semper Dowland, semper dolens. ("Always Dowland, always mourning.") The melancholy man, known to contemporaries as a "malcontent," is epitomized by Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet, the "Melancholy Dane." Another literary expression of this cultural mood comes from the death-obsessed later works of John Donne. Other major melancholic authors include Sir Thomas Browne, and Jeremy Taylor, whose Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial and Holy Living and Holy Dying, respectively, contain extensive meditations on death.
See also[edit | edit source]
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Hippocrates, Aphorisms, Section 6.23
- cf. The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton, subsection 3, on and after line 3480, "Music a Remedy":
But to leave all declamatory speeches in praise of divine music, I will confine myself to my proper subject: besides that excellent power it hath to expel many other diseases, it is a sovereign remedy against  despair and melancholy, and will drive away the devil himself. Canus, a Rhodian fiddler, in Philostratus, when Apollonius was inquisitive to know what he could do with his pipe, told him, "That he would make a melancholy man merry, and him that was merry much merrier than before, a lover more enamoured, a religious man more devout." Ismenias the Theban, Chiron the centaur, is said to have cured this and many other diseases by music alone: as now they do those, saith Bodine, that are
troubled with St. Vitus's Bedlam dance. 
- "Humanities are the Hormones: A Tarantella Comes to Newfoundland. What should we do about it?" by Dr. John Crellin, MUNMED, newsletter of the Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1996.
- Aung, Steven K.H., Lee, Mathew H.M., "Music, Sounds, Medicine, and Meditation: An Integrative Approach to the Healing Arts", Alternative & Complementary Therapies, Oct 2004, Vol. 10, No. 5: 266-270. 
- Dr. Michael J. Crawford page at Imperial College London, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Psychological Medicine.
- Crawford, Mike J., Talwar, Nakul, et al. (November 2006). Music therapy for in-patients with schizophrenia: Exploratory randomised controlled trial. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2006) 189: 405-409.
- 'Istanbul', chapter 10, (2003) Orhan Pamuk
- Avicenna, Fi'l-Ḥuzn, (About Ḥuzn)
- "Summa Theologica", Thomas Aquinas
See Also[edit | edit source]
[edit | edit source]
- Grunwald Center website: Durer's Melencolia and clinical depression, iconography and printmaking techniques
- "Dürer's Melancholia": sonnet by Edward Dowden
- Melancholy and abstraction, on the Berlin exhibition "Melancholy: Genius and Madness in Art"
Emotional states (list)
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See also: Meta-emotion
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