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That Aristotle connected excellence, creativity to (bipolar) melancholy is known. This article adds depth and detail by distilling from his work characteristics of hot and cold melancholy, placing them in pairs of opposites, and comparing them with the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder in DSM. The Greek warned against extreme mood. He named two examples of mythical persons who suffered the tragic consequences; Ajax’ suicide and Hercules’ manic destruction of his wife and children. More recent examples are Vincent van Gogh, who committed suicide and his brother Theo who attacked his wife and child, was interned and finally succumbed from the consequences of extreme mania.
Aristotle urged melancholics to temper their mood. For it was only from mild melancholy that sustained creativity could be expected. He advocated hellebore as medicine. His general ethical advice to strive towards the opposite extreme is especially relevant for melancholics. Aristotle’s work on excellence and bipolar melancholy can inspire those confronted with bipolar disorder today to temper their mood. The examples of famous melancholics throughout the ages bring comfort and a sense of belonging.
The author, who is stabilized on lithium, holds up the example of the van Gogh family who, lacking the effective the medicine available today, communicated openly with each other about their disorder. With the new 20th century medication, perfected in our own time, it is from increased openness that the major advances in mental health are now to be expected.
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