Mad, Deranged, Insane: A Case Study of Madness as a Diagnosis in Antiquity

  • Jazz Demetrioff


In our recent past, we have understood madness as locking someone up in an asylum and not letting them take part in our culture. In antiquity, it was quite different because those who were understood to be were banished to the streets where they were left to the will of the gods. Scholarship debates the nature of madness in antiquity, and, specifically, how physicians diagnosed what was known as the “sacred disease”—epilepsy. One of the most fascinating accounts that has been left for us to study is the case of Emperor Gaius Caligula, was claimed to be a man. Using the writings of Hippocrates and other ancient sources we can look deeper into the Emperor’s short life and consider that it was not madness that changed Caligula’s mindset; rather, it was the “sacred disease” as it was understood at the time by Roman society.