Female madness in classic Greece medical texts and tragic
In its first part this essay analyses all the accounts of female pathologies that comprise symptoms of mental diseases contained in the Corpus hippocraticum. In these sources “madness” is never a distinct illness, conceived of as such. Mental disorders are instead disclosed in a clinical framework in which the illness’ aetiology is always physical, associated to the workings of the uterus in the several stages of women’s biological life. As a result, “madness” is a transitory state of the body that cannot be ethically sanctioned or incur social discrimination. Notwithstanding the use of similar symptoms and vocabulary, the insanity represented in the tragedy production of that period is an altogether different one. This is analysed in the second part of the essay, which looks at the three cases of the “Io” in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, at Phaedra in Euripides’ Hyppolitus, and at Agaue in Euripides’ Bacchae. In each case, the madness of these three women is caused by a deity and it is therefore without resolution. Furthermore, although the concerned characters are innocent, their insanity brings about a violation of ethical values that causes moral condemnation and social exclusion.