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Demokrit-lachender Philosoph und sanguinischer Melancholiker: Eine pseudohippokratische Geschichte.

This is an unusually learned but absolutely thrilling essay on the reception of a famous episode, the encounter between Hippocrates and Democritus narrated in the Pseudo-Hippocratic epistolae of the Corpus hippocraticum, a collection of letters that may be the first epistolary novel. According to this fiction (letter 17), since the citizens of Abdera thought Democritus had succumbed to madness because he laughed incessantly, they called Hippocrates for help. When the famous physician arrived, he found Democritus (as Robert Burton put it) "busie in cutting up severall Beasts, to finde the cause of madnesse, and melancholy" and ultimately declared Democritus healthy. Thus Burton, who styled himself as "Democritus Junior," is one in a long line of readers for whom the seventeenth Pseudo-Hippocratic letter is primarily a work on melancholy. Let me admit quickly that I am a minor figure toward the end of that line, since in 1991 I put an engraving of Democritus "cutting up beasts" on the cover of my book Melancholy, Genius, and Utopia in the Renaissance.

The point is that Burton says "madnesse and melancholy" where the Greek text merely has mania. Rutten shows convincingly that Burton's important interpretive reading and his view of Democritus as a laughing melancholic, developed from Renaissance humanists like Ficino and Melanchthon, had no antecedents in antiquity, the Middle Ages, or even the early Renaissance. While the polar opposition of the weeping Heraclitus and the laughing Democritus is old, Democritus had not been seen as a proto-melancholic, let alone a melancholic of genius. Far from casting any blame on one or the other reader of the text (assigned to the first century B.C.) - which would not only be anachronistic but naive - Rutten takes us through several precise stages of its reception, which one might call an instance of creative misreading - stages that cannot be retraced here. Crucial, of course, is the notion of the sanguine melancholic derived from Galen's humoral system and its association in the Renaissance with the Pseudo-Aristotelian Problem xxx. 1, which ennobled melancholy.

With its copious bibliography, an index of names, and twenty-six illustrations, this study of the reception of an important and previously neglected text deserves its place on any book shelf next to Saturn and Melancholy by Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl.

WINFRIED SCHLEINER University of California, Davis
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Author:Schleiner, Winfried
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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