Melancholy, Love, and Time

Boundaries of the Self in Ancient Literature
Peter Toohey
An examination of the effects and meaning of emotional states of distress in ancient literature


Ancient literature features many powerful narratives of madness, depression, melancholy, lovesickness, simple boredom, and the effects of such psychological states upon individual sufferers. Peter Toohey turns his attention to representations of these emotional states in the classical, Hellenistic, and especially the Roman imperial periods in a study that illuminates the cultural and aesthetic significance of this emotionally charged literature.

Toohey also examines some of the ways that the "self" was (or was not) formulated in ancient literature, looking at conditions that could be said to endanger the fragile stability of "self" and how the "self," in ancient experience, was reestablished. Ancient representations of suicide, the perception of time, and the formulation of leisure, Toohey argues, challenge the widespread orthodoxy that melancholic emotions were somehow "discovered" during the European Enlightenment. Blending ancient literature, ancient art, modern psychological theory, and modern literature into his interpretive matrix, Toohey concludes that, paradoxically, difficult emotional registers represent key modes for buttressing an individual's sense of self in both the ancient and modern world.

Melancholy, Love, and Time makes an important contribution to classical studies, comparative literature, cultural studies, the history of psychology and medicine, as well as to the burgeoning field of the history of emotions.

Peter Toohey is Professor and Department Head of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Calgary, Canada.

Praise / Awards

  • "This is a fascinating book. Peter Toohey has identified a profound change in the way ancient Greeks and Romans talked about feelings such as melancholy, lovesickness, and boredom, along with the emergence of a new awareness of depression. How and why this occurred makes for a gripping chapter in the history of human psychology and the concept of the self."
    —David Konstan, Brown University
  • "Peter Toohey's unprecedented book on ancient feelings navigates delicately among exotic archipelagos of emotional antiquity--boredom, lovesickness, depression, suicide, and melancholy. Delving below their surface, spelunking with modern social sciences for the hidden connections, Toohey shows that the self and its frustrations are both ancient and modern constructs. Affective and even somatic states have their own outbreaks and histories, as Toohey aptly illustrates, exploring the evidence from painting, non-fiction, and fiction from six centuries."
    —Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University
  • "Melancholy, Love, and Time is a daring and highly original study of the representation of the self in ancient literature. Toohey brings together a remarkably wide range of material, and not only provides a new perspective on ancient texts, but also demonstrates their relevance for understanding the current complexities of the self. It is highly recommended."
    —Lars Fr. H. Svendsen, University of Bergen, Norway
  • "Melancholy, boredom, lovesickness, our very sense of self: Peter Toohey finds all these (and more) in the first and second centuries C.E. This important book confounds the current consensus on the attributes of modernity and the cultural construction of affective states."
    —Mark Golden, University of Winnipeg
  • "[A] challenging and ambitious interdisciplinary book that confronts many received certainties about the ancient world.... It is massive in scope and ambitious in aim and opens up new vistas on ancient culture. "
    American Journal of Philology
  • ". . . offers fascinating insights into a number of less obvious aspects of the emotional life of the Greeks and the Romans, or at least of their literary characters. . . . [T]he out-of-the-way journey he offers through astutely assembled scraps of evidence is definitely worth taking."
    —Alessandro Schiesaro, Times Literary Supplement

Product Details

  • 394 pages.
  • 8 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02559-6

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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