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Where's Your Sense of Humor?

Hippocrates (460 - 370 BCE) had one, in fact he had four. The healer who inspired that famous oath that includes the promise to "do no harm" believed that four humors governed human health. If the blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm were all in balance, then you probably had nothing to worry about (except for the fact that the flushable toilet wouldn't be invented for another 2,200 years and you probably wouldn't make it past 35). Diet and activity could create an excess or deficit in any one of these liquids, leading to better health or illness depending upon the individual's current state. Vapors containing the humors also might be inhaled or absorbed, possibly
leading to illness.

Hippocrates made no distinction between mental illness and other disease. It was just another example of a body out of balance with nature. Yes, this portion of Hippocrates' medical practice, diagnosis based on humor imbalance, was full of prunes, but a) at least he did not blame the gods for sickness or credit them with recovery, and b) he treated his patients with kindness and humility. Then it all went to hell in a hand basket, and it took less than 100 years. Blame the philosophers.

Plato (427 - 347 BCE) and his student, Aristotle, spent so much time thinking about ideals or golden means, they had little patience for average, and none at all for below par. In Plato's
Republic, this contemporary of Hippocrates sliced the brain (philosophically) into three parts: the rational/ruling, the passionate/emotional, and the appetitive/desiring. Balance was once again critical, but Plato eschewed the humors' role. At least Plato made this much progress: mental health, he declared, was all in your head. Where he lets go of the reins, however, is when he concludes, more or less, that mental health or sickness are equivalent with moral virtue and vice. You can't have a just and democratic society without citizens who are physically, spiritually and mentally developed. Anyone else thinking about the word 'outcast?'

Greeks and Romans knew what imperfection was. They just didn't want to look at it. How often, for example, can you find one of their nude male statues without six pack abs? Since it was common 'knowledge' that people suffering from mental illness were inferior examples of humanity, treating them as less than human was a natural consequence. One gruesome example: beggars would mutilate their young charges, perhaps by crippling or lopping off a non-critical appendage to engender pity from passersby.

The origins of the court jester can most likely be found in the homes of wealthy ancient Romans. For their amusement, these folks would haul out their own personal mentally disabled slave for a good laugh, or some old-fashioned mockery. They called this unfortunate a "fool."

There was one Greek healer practicing in Rome during the time
The Bow of Heaven takes place. Asclepiades (c.125 - 40 BCE) was one of the first who advocated and practiced humane treatment of the mentally deranged. He believed that illness was caused by inharmonious or irregular movement of atoms in the body. Obstruction of pores blocking the free movement of these atoms were the causes of dis-ease. He treated the mentally ill with the same methods as his other patients, attempting to ease their distress by placing them in calmly environments, prescribing therapeutic baths, exercise, massage and music.

As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live."

So, who was the genius who said this? Answer: Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE) . And the next question - what did he mean by 'exposure?' Well, it sure wasn't concern that the little tikes might be getting too much sun. He was alluding to the quite common practice of leaving malformed babies out in the woods for quick disposal. In Rome, the river Tiber proved handy for relieving a family of having to suffer the scorn and ridicule of having a child who did not meet society's definition of

By the way, I'll bet they didn't teach this in Philosophy 101: the ancients believed that man is the most highly evolved of beings. No surprise there. But they weren't speaking of 'man' as we often use it, as a noun inclusive of both sexes. They meant men. The less fair sex. The paterfamilias. Worse than that, women were "the first step along the road to deformity." Who could have had the audacity to utter such drivel? Scoring gold in Olympic Misogyny, let's hear it once again for Plato's star student, Aristotle. Here he is, just to my left. I'm guessing pattern baldness was intentionally left off the list of imperfections. Could the renown philosopher have been one of the first to employ the comb-over?

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