Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Inferno, Canto VII - Medieval (and Modern) Views on Depression and Acedia


In the Inferno, Canto VII, Dante and Virgil encounter a bog full the wrathful and depressed. Still furious, the damned angry attack each other in secula seculorum. Beneath them, mired in the mud, sufferers of acedia lie, visible only as air bubbles. Acedia means "flight from the world." It is the sin of disengagement, torpor, listlessness - what people today call depression. Their punishment is to burble up an eternal hymn of regret and sadness:  

                                                          ...We were sad 
                      in the sweet air gladdened by the sun,
                      filled as we were with mournful sighs:
                     now we are sullen in the muck and mire.

Toward these sad souls, Dante demonstrates none of the pity that he showed for the lustful and gluttonous sinners of previous cantos. The acedious are anonymous, unseen, and quickly glossed over. Today, these sinners would be diagnosed as clinically depressed and prescribed Zoloft.

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I normally try  to give a neutral view on this blog. A moderate, I despise the lowbrow political discourse on facebook (and seemingly everywhere else in the country for that matter) where people put statuses and posts up that say nothing of more substance than "hurray for our side" and "those who aren't for us are against us (and therefore evil)." But I will give a personal view here, as this is something I feel strongly about: there are many in this country, both secular and religious, who have a Dantean view of depression.

Illnesses of the mind are invisible and therefore unbelievable to some. The mind is a chemical computer that can malfunction when the homeostatis of the body is disrupted. As with any injury or disease, healing takes time and sometimes the recovery is not a full one. I would like to live in a society in which no-one consigns the depressed to the miry pit.

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