Bipolar creativity – a short history of a concept

Main Article Content

Marlies ter borg


This article traces ideas on the link between mood-swing and brilliance, from Greek/Roman to present times. From Plato, Aristotle, Seneca and the physician Aretaeus the story moves to the monasteries: Anthony, Cassian, Benedict, and Augustine ending with Luther who suffered recurrent depression. With his opponent Erasmus we enter the Renaissance. The physician Ficino picks up the Aristotelean concept of melancholy and outstanding achievement. Burton illustrates the two poles of melancholy in a poem.

19th century physicians in France, Pinel and Gachet develop this concept. The German physicians Kraepelin and Leonhard take us into the 20th century, and we end in the US, with DSM-5 in 2013. The terminology develops from melancholy, via acedia, cirkuläres Irresein, manic-depressive to bipolar disorder. Through these terminological and cultural differences a consensus appears that extremes of destructive mania and deep, suicidal depression must be avoided. To achieve this medication is advised.

Creativity is located in the mood just under mania, light hypomania. The term ‘bipolar creativity’ is coined to shift attention from creative persons with a bipolar disorder to the process of creativity itself. It demands the enthusiasm, high self-esteem, and quick thinking, typical of hypomania. In this process light depression is also important. It’s critical stance can play a positive role in breaking the ground for new creations. It is not only the high mood but the alternation of opposite moods that gives scope to creativity. There is a fortunate ‘match’ between mild bipolar disorder and the bipolar creative process.

Keywords: Bipolar creativity – a short history of a concept, Bipolar creativity, History of Bipolar creativity concept

Article Details

How to Cite
BORG, Marlies ter. Bipolar creativity – a short history of a concept. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 10, n. 10, oct. 2022. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 19 june 2024. doi:
Research Articles


1. Plato, Phaedrus, 370 BC. Oxford World Classics, translator: Robin Waterfiel, 2010

2. Ter Borg, M. Aristotle and DSM on ‘Bipolar’ Melancholy: Symptoms, Medication, Link to Creativity, ESMED Medical Research Archives, May 2021

3. Aristotle, On Melancholy, ter Borg M. Independent Publisher, Amazon, 2013

4. Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi On Peace of Mind IX.10-11, 49 to 62,, 2016

5. Aretæus, Consisting of Eight Books, On the Causes, Symptoms and Cure of Acute and Chronic Diseases; Translated by John Moffat, M.D, Gale, 2018, Book I, chapter V on Melancholy, chapter VI on Mania.

6. Gachet, l’Étude sur la Melancholie,Montpellier 1858 publisher Typ. de Boehm, 1858

7. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience 1902, Penguin classics 1985

8. Jerome, Letter 25 to Rusticus. New Advent org.

9. Vitium is often translated as Capital Sin, of which 8 were acknowledged, including Sloth . Sin is a very heavy translation, with moral overtones. The Latin word vitium also means a disorder or defect of the soul or psyche.

10. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders, (DSM-5) 2013 revised edition 2020

11. Evagrius The Praktikos & Chapters On Prayer, Cistercian Publications, 1970

12. Demon can be translated as mood, eudaimonia is good mood, happiness and kakodaimonia bad mood.

13. Cassian, On the Eight Vices,
John Cassian The Institutes, Coptic Orthodox St Shenouda Monastery 2020

14. Athanasius, The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus - Translation and intoduction by Gregg R.C. The Classics of Western Spirituality.

15. Rule of Benedict, Regula Sancti Benedicti, 516 chapter XLVIII, Courier Corporation, 2012

16. The Confessions of Saint Augustine, 400, XL,65 translator Ryan, J.K. 1960

17. Augustine The City of God, Penguin Random House,1994 Gateway Editions 1996, Intro: Hibbs, T.S.
18. Idem 413–426

19. Bainton R H Here I stand, a life of Martin Luther. Penguin Random House 2002 p. 65,135

20. Luther M The Lutheran Hymnal 387 Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, German title Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein, 1523, translator Richard Massie, 1854, website

21. Luther M Disputatio pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum. All Souls Allerheiligen Abend 1517 Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences online Website Luther's 95 theses (in Latin

22. Erasmus D. In praise of folly ch. 22, 37 translator Wilson J Dover Thrift editions 2003

23. Albertus Magnus, De animalibus “Sicut Aristoteles in libro de Problematibus dicit, asserens quod omni excelsi in sapientia et heroicas virtutes habentes, ferefuerunt melancholici.”

24. Ficino, De vita libri tres, Three Books of Life, 1482, Angela Vos, 2006

25. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621. p.11-1, Angus Gowland, Penguin Classics 2020

26. Luther, M. The Bondage of will, De servo Arbitrio 1525 in Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther discourse on free will translated by Winter E F Bloomsbury Revelations 2013

27. Pinel, P. Traité médico-philosophique sur l'aliénation mentale ou La manie 1801, p. 136

28. Kraepelin, E. 1907 reprint 2015, Die Melancholie, ein Zustandsbild des manisch-depressieven Irresein. Verlag der Wissenschaften, Berlin

29. Kraepelin, E. Manic-depressive insanity and paranoia, translated by Barclay, R.M. published by Livingstone, 1921.

30. Perris, C. The importance of Karl Leonhard's classification of endogenous psychoses, Psychopathology 1990

31. American Psychiatric Association, DSM III, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd Edition.

32. DSM-5 American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders, 2013, revised edition 2020, p. 136

33. I use the word soul or psyche as gender neutral- ‘ it’

34. Aristotle Politics 1. 1253a, Oxford World Classics, 2009

35. Descartes R. Méditations Métaphysique Première Méditation
36. Plato, The Republic, 518a Translation: Desmond Lee, Penguin 1955

37. Why worry, Mark Knopfler, Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group, sung first by Everly Brothers 1989

38. Bible, KJV Ecclesiastes 3:4