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Thursday, January 06, 2005


individuality and madness

a discussion on insanity defenses led me to read this negative review which itself is very informative on the conception of madness in ancient law.

particularly striking to me was the account of the ancient conception of harmonia, which one might describe as the social fitness of a person. the account of homer from the iliad:

The sons of the Achaeans shouted applause at the words of Diomed, and presently Nestor rose to speak. "Son of Tydeus," said he, "in war your prowess is beyond question, and in council you excel all who are of your own years; no one of the Achaeans can make light of what you say nor gainsay it, but you have not yet come to the end of the whole matter. You are still young- you might be the youngest of my own children- still you have spoken wisely and have counselled the chief of the Achaeans not without discretion; nevertheless I am older than you and I will tell you every" thing; therefore let no man, not even King Agamemnon, disregard my saying, for he that foments civil discord is a clanless, hearthless outlaw.
the association of individualism with criminality is by no means unique to homer. the ancient world saw antisocial behavior as dangerous (rightly), and gave great strength to patriarchy as a means of order.

i fear this is little thought of now when, as was noted, "we are nowadays all in the situation that Homer once described... uprooted from containing wholes, and skeptical concerning them" -- perhaps just when we should consider it most.

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