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The Nature of MelancholyFrom Aristotle to Kristeva$
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Jennifer Radden

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780195151657

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195151657.001.0001

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(p.69) 3 Accidie
The Nature of Melancholy

Jennifer Radden

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents Cassian's discussion of melancholy. Cassian was raised in a Christian monastery in Bethlehem during the second half of the 4th century, and although not much is known about his early life, he is one of the most influential figures in the history of the early Christian church. This is because he provided the Christian West with information on the life led by the “desert fathers,” or “cenobites,” early monks who lived alone or in small groups in Egypt seeking lives of simplicity and asceticism. Acedia is from a Greek word that means “noncaring state.” It was referred to as the midday demon, as Cassian observes, because of the state described in Psalm 91: “Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night; nor of the arrow that flieth by day; nor the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor of the destruction that wasteth at noonday.” Regarded as a sin, acedia was a mental state of despondency, lethargy, and discouragement that distracted a solitary monk from his duties. Because it involved dejection and despondency, it is sometimes identified with melancholia. Cassian's writing about acedia makes use of medical metaphors, but it is important to recognize that they are metaphors. In emphasizing the link with noontime, he likens acedia to a fever that seizes a person at the same time each day.

Keywords:   Cassian, acedia, melancholia

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