Preliminary Qualifications

The setting where hellebore and borage were recommended for melancholy differs vastly from today’s, of course, as historical scholarship has illustrated.1 The exact relationship between the disorders of melancholy and today’s depression is complex and contested, moreover, and we invite anachronism by equating the earlier- described condition with present-day complaints (Radden 2003, 2009, 2013; Varga 2013; Foucault 2006; Berrios 2011). Yet strong analogies unite the sad and fearful moods characterizing the melancholy depicted by Burton with the suffering of those diagnosed as depressed today. What Burton calls “an habit of Melancholy” possesses characteristics that are held and defended in relation to depression: in the diversity of its symptoms; its link to anxious, apprehensive, and fearful states; its association with objectless and pervasive moods as well as more directed feelings; its manifestation in both severe, even delusional, states and subclinical conditions and traits; and its ruminative and solitary symptom profile. Parallels such as these are sufficient warrant for the present exploration.

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