n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - Introduction

Supplement 3
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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The importance of a cognitive field in a particular culture may be gauged from the variety and attention it is given in that culture's expressions, linguistic, artistic and otherwise. Regarding madness, the broad range of terms and expressions in English associated with the field certainly points to both prominence and complexity : insanity, derangement, delusion, craziness, frenzy, fury, rage, lunacy, being mentally disordered, impaired, disturbed or unstable, to mention some of the more frequently used words and phrases. If to that may be added the myriad of psychopathological terms for mental disorders and colloquial - often disparaging - expressions for behaviour ranging from mildly awkward to positively dangerous ('out of your mind'; 'nuts', 'off your rocker', etc.), the list goes on and on. It reveals much about our own heritage that we are willing to group such disparate phenomena into a single cognitive field, often tacitly understood as the opposite of rational or socially acceptable behaviour. In Greco-Roman literature, the theme - if indeed one is bold (deluded?) enough to retroject all modern associations into ancient times under a single umbrella term - occurs in manifold shapes and sizes. In truth, the ancient Greek cognitive mapping does not overlap in all respects with our own understanding of the term, which appears to be dominated by metaphorical and medical uses. To mention but one difference : madness in the Greco-Roman world sometimes implied a form of heightened ability to the benefit of society, like the forms of divine madness mentioned by Plato or the 'battle frenzy' of the Homeric Diomedes or Hector on a slaughtering rampage.

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