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Psychiatriki. 2014 Jul-Sep;25(3):200-7.

Suicide in ancient Greece.

Author information

1
History of Medicine Department, Medical School, University of Athens.
2
1st Department of Psychiatry, University of Athens, Eginition Hospital, Athens, Greece.

Abstract

The theme of suicide appears several times in ancient Greek literature. However, each such reference acquires special significance depending on the field from which it originates. Most of the information found in mythology, but the suicide in a mythological tale, although in terms of motivation and mental situation of heroes may be in imitation of similar incidents of real life, in fact is linked with the principles of the ancient Greek religion. In ancient drama and mainly in tragedies suicide conduces to the tragic hypostasis of the heroes and to the evolution of the plot and also is a tool in order to be presented the ideas of poets for the relations of the gods, the relation among gods and men and the relation among the men. In ancient Greek philosophy there were the deniers of suicide, who were more concerned about the impact of suicide on society and also these who accepted it, recognizing the right of the individual to put an end to his life, in order to avoid personal misfortunes. Real suicides will be found mostly from historical sources, but most of them concern leading figures of the ancient world. Closer to the problem of suicide in the everyday life of antiquity are ancient Greek medicines, who studied the phenomenon more general without references to specific incidents. Doctors did not approve in principal the suicide and dealt with it as insane behavior in the development of the mental diseases, of melancholia and mania. They considered that the discrepancy of humors in the organ of logic in the human body will cause malfunction, which will lead to the absurdity and consequently to suicide, either due to excessive concentration of black bile in melancholia or due to yellow bile in mania. They believed that greater risk to commit suicide had women, young people and the elderly. As therapy they used the drugs of their time with the intention to induce calm and repression in the ill person, therefore they mainly used mandragora. In general, we would say that there were many reasons to suicide someone in antiquity. Very important factor was to avoid captivity and the consequent overcrowding of indignity, especially for politicians and military leaders. Also intention in these circumstances was to avoid torture and the disgrace of rape. Strong grief is another reason, as in case of death of family members. The erotic disappointment had place in ancient suicides, which concerned both men and women, while there were also suicide for financial reasons. Especially for the elderly, the despair of the anility in conjunction with physical illness and cachexia, were important factors for these people to decide thee suicidal. Finally, the methods of suicide fitted their epoch, but bear resemblance to those of the modern time. Poisoning was very common to both men and women but equally popular in both sexes was also the hanging. It was not unusual to fall from a high in order to reach the death, while stabbing a sword in the body for self killing was widespread in men and soldiers.

PMID:
25367664
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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