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BC or BCE? CE or AD? Common Era or Dionysian?
Mental Illness… Responses
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
We are on the road again! Or should I say in the air? I’m writing to you from a plane which is currently hurling me back home to the quiet embrace of our books and routine.
As such, I thought I'd be brief with this week's mailbag introduction… and throw out a question that is often hotly debated in the classics loving world. It's a subject that brings out great passion of its defenders on both sides... and thus a perfect topic for this space!
The question at hand is both practical and philosophical:
Should we use BC or BCE? AD or CE?
For those who want a quick refresher, the 'older' system called the Dionysian eras, were created by the 6th-century Scythian/Roman monk, Dionysius Exiguus. You'll be no doubt acquainted with the terms anno Domini (AD) and before Christ (BC), which are used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.
Then, in 1615, came the alternative concept of the 'Common Era' (CE) or 'Before Common Era' (BCE) by Johannes Kepler. It became more widely used in the mid-19th century by Jewish religious scholars, and in the later 20th century in academic and scientific publications...
And here in Classical Wisdom, it's the subject of many emails to your editor. So, let's put the decision to the community. Dear reader, which is better:
Dionysian or Common Era? BC or BCE? AD? or CE?
As a secular dyslexic, I’m personally very torn, so I will be grateful for your musings.
You can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email. And now, onto this week’s mailbag responses…
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Last week we asked:
One: Is it right for someone(s) to determine what is ‘normal’/’sane’?
Two: If a person is outside of that range of ‘normal’, is that bad? Is that ‘insane’?
I was amazed by the responses, which once more spanned the full spectrum of view points and offered many opportunities for thoughtful consideration, including the term ‘Mental Illness’, Sanity, PSTD, Brain injuries, the Patriarchy and Euripides... not necessarily in that order.
Personally, I always find it extremely valuable to read differing opinions. Whether it changes your mind or reinforces your point, either way you learn something… and that will certainly happen in today’s reader mail.
Founder and Director
P.S. Make sure to tune in for tomorrow’s webinar on Zoroastrianism at Noon EDT… One of the largest and most ancient religions and yet regularly overlooked. Discover the history and influence of Zoroastrianism in the ancient world.
Mailbag: Is Mental Illness REAL?
Re: What a subject line!
Mental illness is real in many ways; to those who live with it, the voices, sensations, angers, or tears they experience are visceral and corporeal. To those who love them, the pain of their distress, the available healthcare which places most of the burden for treatment upon the patients and their loved ones, the emotional tax of hope (ever-living hope, that some external or deeply internal factors may change and a new day’s light shine on the horizon of their souls) is habitual reality.
But is the state of what we call mental illness something we should be pathologizing so extremely, rather than embracing as a different kind of normal? I love *that* question, because to that I feel like the answer is a resounding no. One day, we will find a way to celebrate those varieties of normal, to embrace the divergences of consciousness and experience, and live peacefully within many realities of truth.
Re: Is Mental Illness Real?
What about Diogenes?
I felt sure our dog-lover would make the cut.
Re: Mental Illness
A good question, partly because so few would ask it. We hear the phrase many times nowadays attributed to so many. I think it is fair today that many who are classified (or rather often self-classify) as mentally ill would not have been given this distinction in the past. The word distinction seems fitting, because the diagnosis has the weight of a merit bestowed upon someone, an excuse for the absence of self-mastery. There are no more eccentrics, only people with ADHD, no more sad sacks, only people who are depressed, and no one is skittish or uptight, only suffering from anxiety disorder. Except, all of these disorders are common traits and emotions that come and go like the setting of the sun. In short, we all have unique characteristics. Mores and behavior standards pertaining to different societies, and in them, different social groups, provide distinct examples of divergence from a generalized behavioral norm. Mental illness is made, a created subcategory to shift the blame of our own deficiencies. Our ancestors would have looked internally for solutions.
Re: Mental Illness Podcast
I just wanted to drop you an email to say how much I enjoyed the Michael Fontaine: Mental Illness in the Ancient World podcast and how thought provoking it is.
Part of my MA dissertation explored the likely effects on the audience of hearing the killing of the children in Medea, which was heard for the first time in the Euripidean version. It was my assertion that the effect would have been exacerbated as a good number of the audience would have been suffering from PTSD or, that is, symptoms of what we would call it (bearing in mind the concept did not exist at the time.)
I tend to look at most things through drama, tragedy and comedy, because not only do they address issues of the day, whether they be moral, political, social, philosophical, etc., the action also has to resonate with the audience. As such, there must be some knowledge or understanding of actions. As a general point I believe where madness is shown there must have been a recognition that the behaviour is out of their norms but, with a lack of understanding they simply blame it on the intervention and actions of the gods. I have to admit that I did like the medical and philosophical discussion, although the word philosophy normally has me running for the hills.
It was touched on in the early part of the podcast but I believe that the reason that the symptoms of what we call PTSD is, by accident, part of the cultural identity of the Athenians. The dramatic festivals incorporated every aspect of Athenian life, it was what made Athenians Athenians. Part of this would be watching and then discussing the plays they had seen. We know that some prisoners in the Sicilian expedition won their freedom as they could recite Euripides and that the spoken word had more memory weight in semi literate societies. I think they unwittingly self medicated with mass talking therapy groups.
Sorry to go on but, as I said, I really enjoyed the podcast, thank you.
All the best,
Re: Mental Illness
My premise though Anya, which I am happy to proffer in response to your query, article, regarding 'mental illness', is that, essentially, many of us are 'mentally ill’. I refer to these people as mentally ill often, but with the meaning of them being not entirely, or acceptably, 'normal' in their attitudes, actions, or handling of life and relationships. I really, really don't like judging, but it is inescapable in life; we all do, we all have to, and it is only the degree that often gets us into trouble. In my opinion, however, we all have to. We are all psychologists, therapists, and more.
Let me try to give some examples. I know of a very successful, intelligent professional man raised by a father that was abusive (physically), stern, very religious, judgmental, regimented, with very little love. The mother was inattentive, unloving, removed, and 'ill' often, to the point of claiming inability to raise the children well. Now, this man abused HIS children physically, mirrored much of his father's downfalls, philosophy, and the children reflect it all - terrible spanking, hitting, punching, pinching - hard to witness. Then, he demands all the attention from his wife, understandable, as he never received the love he needed as a child. He cannot tolerate anyone else being given attention by his wife or children. So, to me Anya, this is an example of accepted, common, 'mental illness' - easily covered up in society, so common, but, certainly not normal or healthy.
I could go on with so many examples. These pale in comparison to what most people consider 'mental illness', but, they are real, they cause pain, damage, so many types of losses for relationships. I have come to feel very few people are mentally 'healthy' to a real degree. No one is perfect, of course, we all have our foibles, but I think the longer we live and observe, most would agree with me. I think my son said it best, 'everyone is normal until you get to know them!'
When I read your article it set me thinking of how so many of us are twisted, most often from youth, and develop far from in a healthy structure mentally. Once that sapling is twisted, it cannot be straightened out.
The answer? Treat our precious children as they should be treated, with respect, dignity, and lots and lots of love.
Thank you for your articles and involvement.
Re: Mental Illness
Isn’t Alex R confusing psychopathy and psychopathology? One is a condition marked by absence of remorse and the inability to experience empathy. The other refers to some kind of derangement or injury, a “suffering of the soul”....
Also, after Thomas Szasz’ book The Myth of Mental Illness which came out decades ago, the term itself “mental illness” has gone out of vogue, like the terms “hysteria” and “neurosis”. There are specific reasons for those terms disappearing and being deemed inappropriate.
Perhaps one could ask what the term “pathological” really means, since there are numerous, inconsistent definitions and many psychologists can’t even define the term they throw around so wantonly. But teasing apart the different definitions can elucidate just how differently people can be pathological, and perhaps even how ubiquitous such maladies are. There is considerable evidence that a spectrum of pathologies do exist and derange reason, perception, and the emotions. So it’s worth discussing, right?
Re: Mental Illness
Mental illness is real but not an illness. I have adolescent dementia and can say that it is an electrical injury. This injury is reversible. The person who treated me later received a Nobel Prize for the first cure for mental illness.
When adolescent grief goes on autopilot, an attempt to support yourself financially may put that effort in conflict with the grief and the mind will electrically fall apart. This is reversible if it does not progress too far before treatment. Mental Illness in this case a reversible injury and is very real and sometimes very painful. I lost my hair to third stage dementia. The prevention is psychotherapy into adulthood so that the grief is internally switchable and no possibility of internal conflict and injury is possible.
Before I got this injury I studied latin and stoicism and became enamored with classical philosophy. I enjoy Classical Wisdom studies and hope I have helped you understand an often misunderstood problem.
Re: Mental Illness
I have myself passed through the gate most people refer to as Mental Illness. Personally, I believe it is a gate to a better understanding of oneself, the world we live in and our place in that world.
Mick Jagger, playing to part of Turner, in the movie Performance told James Fox's character, Chas:
"The only Performance that makes it; that really makes it; that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness!"
I believe Turner was right. If one is going to cross the Abyss to reach the Supernal Triangle of Wisdom and Understanding, one must literally go mad. One must be stripped of every idea and every prejudice. One must be forced to abandon one's World View, shed one's conditioning and let go of everything one thought one knew. Only madness is capable of ripping one apart like this, so that one can be remade anew.
Of course, not everyone who encounters madness makes this journey. Some people like to blame the rest of the world for their difficulties, pretending everything that is wrong with their world is someone else's fault, fearing ever to look themselves in the face and know themselves, warts and all.
Some people like to be medicated out of existence. They get what they want, too! Mental Health medication kills and destroys. It always has and it always will. The only way to deal with a crisis (a mental health crisis or any other crisis) is to deal with it. One might have to retreat into oneself to do it. I had to retreat into myself for 18 years! Fortunately for me, I live alone. I did not have to deal with an army of fools, telling me to "Snap out of it"!
As for hearing voices: What's wrong with that? It could be a thought from deep in one's own unconscious mind. It might even be a message from one of these gentlemen.
It's less than a million years ago that people who claimed they heard Jesus or the Holy Spirit or "Mary Mother of God" talking to them were accounted saints.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Anya, than are dreamed of in your philosophy! See Hamlet.
Who's to say what Madness is? Who's to say what it isn't?
Re: Mental Illness
Good morning, now that is a lovely question indeed.
I was once asked if I was superstitious. The answer was no! Of course not… because that may bring bad luck.
Thank you to the team of CW and please do keep up the good work. It’s being appreciated a lot.
Re: Mental Illness
Of course mental illness is real. What isn’t is the concept of normal. We’ve been shoehorned into a narrow definition of “normal” for thousands of years, browbeaten, shamed, and persecuted if we don’t fit. Who has defined this normal? Largely the white western patriarchy. If you don’t fit into that normal, you’ll be burned at the stake/institutionalized/enslaved or just outright turned out. So many people don’t actually fit into this concept of normal that I’m all for redefining what normal is, or tossing the term entirely. I love finding out that what exists in my orbit may be normal for me, but not for other people. Thanks to TikTok I’ve learned that not everyone can visualize images or has an inner voice, two things that have been my regular my entire life. Am I normal or are they? Who cares, honestly?
Considering we’ve only really started diving into the mind within the past thirty years with any real clarity and ethicality (because let’s face it: psychiatry of the more recent past is horrific), so to ask whether something like schizophrenia existed in the ancient world is laughable. Of course it did. It just didn’t have a name and it certainly didn’t have treatment. Because they didn’t have an understanding of how people with this disorder operated, they were often excluded from society if they were poor. If they were wealthy they were managed in different ways.
In the case of psychopathic rulers, I think many of them were just psychopaths and calling them insane or mentally ill is giving them a pass for their bad behavior by saying they weren’t in control. We often do it today with the men who commit mass shootings. By calling them mentally ill, we’re excusing their behavior while at the same time propping up the very destructive narrative that mentally ill = dangerous. We can get into a conversation about whether being a radicalized incel or white nationalist terrorist is a mental illness another time.
In short, let’s get rid of the concept of normal. Or, at the very least, greatly broaden its definition to include more than the white western patriarchal definition of it. And just so you’re aware, the term crazy in this context is ableist and damaging to people with mental illness. To quote this article (https://www.self.com/story/crazy-mental-health-stigma):
“The problem with the word is it implies something other than a person living with a very complicated, profound health condition,” Christine Moutier, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, tells SELF. “It implies a characterological issue or personality flaw rather than a brain illness.”
Re: Mental Illness
1: Is it right for someone(s) to determine what is ‘normal’/’sane’?
No. Read Orwell 1984 for details and why.
2: If a person is outside of that range of ‘normal’, is that bad? Is that ‘insane’?
Imagination and creativity begin at the demarcation line of normal. As a rebellious outside the box thinker that requires a why before following rules. I have a favorite statement and that is, It does not matter if I am sane. What matters is am I right?
Re: Mental Illness
Your first question: “Is it right for someone to determine what is sane or not?”, brought about an interesting reaction for me. I am marriage and family therapist. The question of what is healthy is one I pose to all my clients which is similar in thought to your question. Looking back upon human history the idea of deciding what is sane or not has been capricious at best. I believe it has been a social imperative for us to define rules that encourage cooperation between people. The question asked of is it right begs to identify a set of values in which to intercept the judgment of our ancestors and ourselves. I believe in the context of a socially cooperative society then yes, defining sane/insane is necessary, but not necessarily right.
The questions arise from me of the right/not right question you asked are: “What are the parameters of the sane/insane definition? Does that mean the ability to provide for the sustenance of life? Does that mean the ability to conform to society norms? What does social conformity mean for this group of people?”
I will leave these ramblings with an answer from a former ethics professor of mine as my final answer: “It depends.”
Best wishes and love the work you and all the contributors continue to churn out for all of us!
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