A Cold Black Humour
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A Cold Black Humour

  • Published Date:

    Mar 15 2006

  • Source:
    Prev Chronic Dis. 2006; 3(2).
  • Language:
Filetype[PDF-98.28 KB]

  • Alternative Title:
    Prev Chronic Dis
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  • Description:
    Robert Burton, an English Anglican priest, was one of the most educated and widely read men of his day. He lived from 1577 to 1640 and is remembered for his influential treatise, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1). Lacking knowledge of biophysical processes, early healers sought to develop models for the treatment of mental illness. In Anatomy, Burton reviews this history as well as the most modern theories of the 17th century. At that time, melancholy referred to all mental diseases and conditions and was considered one of four humours that controlled body systems: blood was a hot, sweet, red humour; phlegm was cold and moist; and choler was hot and dry. But melancholy was "cold and dry, thick, black, and sour, begotten of the more feculent part of nourishment, and purged from the spleen." In the 17th century, treatment for an imbalance in melancholy might have included teas, infusions, or broths of laurel, white hellebore, bugloss, marigold, or pennyroyal — or even bloodletting with horse leeches. Burton discusses the debate on whether the brain, the heart, or some other body organ is the source of melancholy, then observes, "Our body is like a clock, if one wheel be amiss, all the rest are disordered." This metaphor remains apt for describing the role of mental health in overall wellness.
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