Madness and the Irrational

Madness and the Irrational

Diapolitismos Publications | 2014

Contemporary science recognizes a double meaning for the word ‘madness’. On the one hand, madness is a world that deeply differs from that of “healthy” people, while on the other, the word reveals something that is inherent to all human beings. Recognizing this reality means exercising respect for The Other, but also reaching a greater understanding of oneself.

The history of madness begins between the 15th and 16th century: Michel Foucault reconstructed it in his exemplary study Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Through this work, which was initially published in 1961 as a doctoral dissertation and reissued in 1972, the French philosopher and historian attempts to interpret madness, which begins from “ground zero of the history of madness, at a time when it is still an undifferentiated experience”; to its medical definition and treatment through confinement; to its emergence as a means of differentiating between healthy and unhealthy people – the mad – who cease to be bearers of sacred knowledge and become the pariahs of society. Already from the period of the Enlightenment, madness is distinguished from rationality; and in the Age of Reason rationality eclipses all other forms of expression, especially the non-rational, its polar opposite. Foucault’s work explores the historical conditions that precipitated this duality, it studies the circumstances that gave rise to the development of psychiatry and psychology, and it analyzes the decline of the previous regime of institutional confinement and the emergence of asylums towards the end of the 18th century. For it was then that mad people were “exonerated” of their madness and became “patients” instead.

In both antiquity and the Middle Ages, madness has no autonomous presence and is interwoven with the manifestation of the sacred. Its everyday coexistence with the magical-theological dimension of reality established a profound relationship between madness and divine or demonic powers. An example of this is the so-called “mania” of the Mainades in Greek mythology: nymphs who presented themselves as companions and escorts of Dionysus and danced in a frenetic and orgiastic manner. Both Euripides and Sophocles have dealt with madness in Bacchae and Ajax respectively. Real madness in antiquity was the rejection of the divine law, the transgression of the limits placed by man and the consequent mockery of divine mystery. In the Middle Ages, the mad person was at the margins of society, because in his/her face one could discern a sign from God. Madness, therefore, was either sent by God or the Devil.

Some of the oldest and most exceptional Greek writers who dealt with madness are: Dimitrios Vikelas, Argyris Eftaliotis, Alexandros Papadiamantis, Georgios Viziinos, Dimitrios Kampouroglou, Ioannis Kondilakis, Pavlos Nirvanas, Michail Mitsakis, Dimosthenis Voutiras, Kostas Paroritis, Giorgis Zarkos, as well as others. Several more contemporary writers have also written about madness, such as Sotiris Papatzis, Andreas Fragias, E.C. Gonatas, Leia Chatzopoulou-Karavia, Nikos Dimou, Diamantis Axiotis, Manolis Praktikakis, Maria Kougioumtzi, Nikos Themelis, Tasos Kaloutsas, Giorgos Romanos, Nikos Katsalidas, Ilias Gris, Niki Troulinou, Sotiris Pastakas, Iro Nikopoulou, Elpidoforos Intzempelis, Lila Kanomara, Sophia Nikolaidou, and Makis Tsitas.

The first Greek novelist to deal with the topic of madness in his work is our national poet, Dionysios Solomos. In his early poem “The Mad Mother,” he describes the anxiety of a mother who has lost two of her children and is desperately looking for them in a cemetery in the middle of the night. Several more poets have dealt with madness and the irrational in their poetry, including: Kostis Palamas, Maria Polydouri, Giannis Ritsos, Miltos Sachtouris, Tasos Livaditis, Giannis Dallas, Giorgis Pavlopoulos, Manolis Anagnostakis, Nikos Karouzos, Titos Patrikios, Zoe Samara, Angeliki Sidira, Lefteris Poulios, Michalis Ganas, Vasilis Ladas, Giorgos Douatzis, Giorgos Markopoulos, Antonis Fostieris, Tasoula Karageorgiou, Alexandra Bakonika, Christos Papageorgiou, Giannis Tzanetakis, Giorgos Kozias, Alexis Stamatis, Sakis Serefas, Eftichia-Alexandra Loukidou, Dimitris Kosmopoulos, Vasilis Rouvalis and Aristea Papalexandrou.

The present anthology is the most comprehensive and most representative amongst the several that have been published on this topic. Its originality rests on the fact that, to this day, it is the first time anyone has collected 38 texts in prose and 30 poems in a single volume. The works have been arranged chronologically, allowing us to observe the presence, evolution and development of works on madness and irrationality in contemporary Greek literature, from the previous century to the present day.

The book is illustrated with several compositions, all of which are the work of painter and psychiatrist Pavlos Vasiliadis.