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CONSOLATIONS FOR MELANCHOLY IN RENAISSANCE HUMANISM

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Author(s): Angus GOWLAND

Journal: Societate şi Politică
ISSN 1843-1348

Volume: 6;
Issue: 11;
Start page: 10;
Date: 2012;
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Keywords: Consolation | Melancholy | Renaissance Humanism | Psychology | Rhetoric | Passions | Imagination

ABSTRACT
This essay explores the role of melancholy within the consolatoryliterature of Renaissance humanism. It begins (sections I-II) with a summary of thethemes and methods of humanist consolationes and their classical models, with particularattention to their moral psychology, and addresses their relationship with scripture andChristian spiritual literature. It then turns to the position of melancholy within humanistconsolations (sections III-VI). It is shown that whilst in many cases moralists andspiritual writers were reluctant invade the territory of the physicians by analysing ortreating a fundamentally somatic condition, discussions of the accidentia animi in Galenicmedicine provided the conceptual environment within which a moral-consolatorytherapy for melancholy could be formulated and applied. Here the role of theimagination was crucial: as the primarily affected part in the disease, it was the faculty ofthe soul that was primarily responsible for melancholic passions, but also the faculty thatpresented the physician and moralist with the opportunity to dispel or alleviate thosepassions. Hence, the imagination was at the centre of a moral psychology of melancholy.The final sections of the essay (V-VI) show that the fullest implementation of thisapproach to the treatment of melancholy was in Robert Burton’s ‘ConsolatoryDigression’ in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), which both synthesises the various moral,spiritual and psychological elements of the humanist consolatory tradition, and contains anumber of idiosyncratic and paradoxical features.
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