Wine, women and song : Renaissance dietary cures for madness


Department of English and Related Literature, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5D, United Kingdom
Tel. 01904-433366, Fax. 01904-433372

Using food, drink or sex to heal the mind presupposes an intimate link between the mind and body, between the organs of digestion or generation and those of the spirit or soul. In Classical medicine, physical treatment for psychic disease was justified on the basis of the close interrelation between mental and physical states. Plato claimed that the constitution and passions of the body could, through provoking appetites and emotions, affects the rational soul itself. Galen held that the mind, like the body, was a mixture of the four qualities or four elements, and that mental diseases were susceptible to physical and dietetic remedies. He believed particularly in the efficacy of regimen in altering character and moral states. These views, along with early Christian teachings which used medical and surgical metaphors to express the salutary effects of religion, provided the background to medieval and Renaissance medical writings on the cure of mental and spiritual afflictions via the body.

Whether in treating lovesickness, melancholy or other ailments of the mind, Renaissance writers such as Juan Huarte, Jacques Ferrand and Robert Burton, offer a range of psychological as well as physical therapies designed to restore balance to the sufferer. My proposed paper will concentrate upon the latter : the emphasis in texts of this period, on the healing of mental afflictions through amendment of diet and exercise, the judicious use of wine, herbs, spices, and particular meats, as well as through recreations including "therapeutic" sexual intercourse. These were combined to provide the requisite alteration in the humours to relieve the afflicted spirit. These Epicurean cures, which to modern eyes read at times like simple wish-fulfilment, had bases in orthodox medical theories which tended to support the homely English adage that the "way to a man's heart (spirit, mind) was through his stomach (and other "lower" appetites)".


Plenary 1   (Felix Platter Lecture)
Tuesday, 14 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN).

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999