Terrors and Affrights, Causes of Melancholy.

Terrors and Affrights, Causes of Melancholy.

TULLY, in the fourth of his Tusculans, distinguishes these terrors which arise from the apprehension of some terrible object heard or seen, from other fears, and so doth Patritius, lib. 5. Tit. 4. de regis institut. Of all fears they are most pernicious and violent, and so suddenly alter the whole temperature of the body, move the soul and spirits, strike such a deep impression, that the parties can never be recovered, causing more grievous and fiercer melancholy, as Felix Plater, c. 3. dementis alienat. speaks out of his experience, than any inward cause whatsoever: and imprints itself so forcibly in the spirits, brain, humours, that if all the mass of blood were let out of the body, it could hardly be extracted. This horrible kind of melancholy (for so he terms it) had been often brought before him, "and troubles and affrights commonly men and women, young and old of all sorts." Hercules de Saxonia calls this kind of melancholy (ab agitatione spirituum) by a peculiar name, it comes from the agitation, motion, contraction, dilatation of spirits, not from any distemperature of humours, and produceth strong effects. This terror is most usually caused, as Plutarch will have, from some imminent danger, when a terrible object is at hand, heard, seen, or conceived, "truly appearing, or in a dream:" and many times the more sudden the accident, it is the more violent.

"Stat terror animis, et cor attonitum salit,
Pavidumque trepidis palpitat venis jecur."

"Their souls affright, their heart amazed quakes,
The trembling liver pants i' th' veins, and aches."

Arthemedorus the grammarian lost his wits by the unexpected sight of a crocodile, Laurentius, 7. de melan. The massacre at Lyons, 1572, in the reign of Charles IX., was so terrible and fearful, that many ran mad, some died, great-bellied women were brought to bed before their time, generally all affrighted aghast. Many lose their wits "by the sudden sight of some spectrum or devil, a thing very common in all ages," saith Lavater, part 1. cap. 9. as Orestes did at the sight of the Furies, which appeared to him in black (as Pausanias records). The Greeks call them μοζμολυχεια, [mozmolycheia] which so terrify their souls, or if they be but affrighted by some counterfeit devils in jest,

"-- ut pueri trepidant, atque omnia cæcis
In tenebris metuunt --"

as children in the dark conceive hobgoblins, and are so afraid, they are the worse for it all their lives. Some by sudden fires, earthquakes, inundations, or any such dismal objects: Themison the physician fell into a hydrophobia, by seeing one sick of that disease: (Dioscurides l. 6. c. 33.) or by the sight of a monster, a carcase, they are disquieted many months following, and cannot endure the room where a corpse hath been, for a world would not be alone with a dead man, or lie in that bed many years after in which a man hath died. At Basel many little children in the spring time went to gather flowers in a meadow at the town's end, where a malefactor hung in gibbets; all gazing at it, one by chance flung a stone, and made it stir, by which accident, the children affrighted ran away; one slower than the rest, looking back, and seeing the stirred carcase wag towards her, cried out it came after, and was so terribly affrighted, that for many days she could not rest, eat, or sleep, she could not be pacified, but melancholy, died. In the same town another child, beyond the Rhine, saw a grave opened, and upon the sight of a carcase, was so troubled in mind that she could not be comforted, but a little after departed, and was buried up. Platerus, observat. l. 1, a gentlewoman of the same city saw a fat hog cut up, when the entrails were opened, and a noisome savour offended her nose, she much misliked, and would not longer abide: a physician in presence told her, as that hog, so was she, full of filthy excrements, and aggravated the matter by some other loathsome instances, insomuch this nice gentlewoman apprehended it so deeply, that she fell forthwith a-vomiting, was so mightily distempered in mind and body, that with all his art and persuasions, for some months after, he could not restore her to herself again, she could not forget it, or remove the object out of her sight, Idem. Many cannot endure to see a wound opened, but they are offended: a man executed, or labour of any fearful disease, as possession, apoplexies, one bewitched; or if they read by chance of some terrible thing, the symptoms alone of such a disease, or that which they dislike, they are instantly troubled in mind, aghast, ready to apply it to themselves, they are as much disquieted as if they had seen it, or were so affected themselves. Hecatas sibi videntur somniare, they dream and continually think of it. As lamentable effects are caused by such terrible objects heard, read, or seen, auditus maximos motus in corpora facit, as Plutarch holds, no sense makes greater alteration of body and mind: sudden speech sometimes, unexpected news, be they good or bad, prævisa minus oratio, will move as much, animum obruere, et de sede sua dejicere, as a philosopher observes, will take away our sleep and appetite, disturb and quite overturn us. Let them bear witness that have heard those tragical alarms, outcries, hideous noises, which are many times suddenly heard in the dead of the night by irruption of enemies and accidental fires, &c., those panic fears, which often drive men out of their wits, bereave them of sense, understanding and all, some for a time, some for their whole lives, they never recover it. The Midianites were so affrighted by Gideon's soldiers, they breaking but every one a pitcher; and Hannibal's army by such a panic fear was discomfited at the walls of Rome. Augusta Livia hearing a few tragical verses recited out of Virgil, Tu Marcellus eris, &c., fell down dead in a swoon. Edinus king of Denmark, by a sudden sound which he heard, "was turned into fury with all his men," Crauzius, l. 5, Dan. hist. et Alexander ab Alexandro l. 3. c. 5. Amatus Lusitanus had a patient, that by reason of bad tidings became epilepticus, cen. 2. cura 90, Cardan subtil. l. 18, saw one that lost his wits by mistaking of an echo. If one sense alone can cause such violent commotions of the mind, what may we think when hearing, sight, and those other senses are all troubled at once? as by some earthquakes, thunder, lightning, tempest; &c. At Bologna in Italy, Anno 1504, there was such a fearful earthquake about eleven o'clock in the night (as Beroaldus, in his book de terræ motu, hath commended to posterity) that all the city trembled, the people thought the world was at an end, actum de mortalibus, such a fearful noise, it made such a detestable smell, the inhabitants were infinitely affrighted, and some ran mad. Audi rem atrocem, at annalibus memorandam (mine author adds), hear a strange story, and worthy to be chronicled: I had a servant at the same time called Fulco Argelanus, a bold and proper man, so grievously terrified with it, that he was first melancholy, after doted, at last mad, and made away himself: At Fuscinum in Japona "there was such an earthquake, and darkness on a sudden, that many men were offended with headache, many overwhelmed with sorrow and melancholy. At Meacum whole streets and goodly palaces were overturned at the same time, and there was such a hideous noise withal, like thunder, and filthy smell, that their hair started for fear, and their hearts quaked, men and beasts were incredibly terrified. In Sacai, another city, the same earthquake was terrible unto them, that many were bereft of their senses; and others by that horrible spectacle so much amazed, that they knew not what they did." Blasius, a Christian, the reporter of the news,was so affrighted for his part, that though it were two months after, he was scarce his own man, neither could he drive the remembrance of it out of his mind. Many time, some years following, they will tremble afresh at the remembrance or conceit of such a terrible object, even all their lives long, if mention be made of it. Cornelius Agrippa relates out of Gulielmus Parisiensis, a story of one, that after a distasteful purge which a physician had prescribed unto him, was so much moved, "that at the very sight of physic he would be distempered," though he never so much as smelled to it, the box of physic long after would give him a purge; nay, the very remembrance of it did effect it; "like travellers and seamen," saith Plutarch, "that when they have been sanded, or dashed on a rock, for ever after fear not that mischance only, but all such dangers whatsoever."

Previous Next