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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/451

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NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

have saved fifteen centuries of cruelty—a truth not fully recognized again till near the beginning of the present century—the truth that insanity is brain-disease, and that the treatment of it must be gentle and kind. In the sixth century Alexander of Tralles presented still more fruitful researches, and taught the world how to deal with melancholia; and, finally, in the seventh century, this great line of scientific men, working mainly under pagan auspices, was closed by Paul of Ægina, who, under the protection of Caliph Omar, made still further observations and additions to truth, but, above all, laid stress on the cure of madness as a disease, and on the absolute necessity of mild treatment.

Such was this great succession in the apostolate of truth; evidently no other has ever shown itself more directly under divine grace, illumination, and guidance. It had given to the world what might have been one of its greatest blessings.[1]

But, most unfortunately, there set into the early Church a current of belief which was destined to bring all these noble acquisitions of science and religion to naught, and, during centuries, to inflict tortures, physical and mental, upon hundreds of thousands of innocent men and women—a belief which held its cruel sway for nearly eighteen centuries; and this belief was that madness was mainly or largely possession by the Devil.

This idea of diabolic agency in mental disease grew luxuriantly in all the Oriental sacred literatures, and especially in that of the Jews. Such cases in the Old Testament as the evil spirit in Saul, which we now see to have been simply melancholy, and in the New Testament the various accounts of the casting out of devils, through which is refracted the beautiful and simple story of that power by which Jesus of Nazareth soothed perturbed minds by his presence or quelled outbursts of madness by his word, give abundant examples of this. In Greece, too, an idea akin to this found lodgment both in the popular belief and in the philosophy of Plato and Socrates;[2] and though, as we have seen, the great leaders in medical science had taught with more or less distinctness that insanity is the result of physical disease, there was a

  1. For authorities regarding this development of scientific truth and mercy in antiquity, see especially Kraft-Ebing, "Lehrbuch der Psychiatrie," Stuttgart, 1888, p. 40 and the pages following; Trélat, "Recherches Historiques sur la Folie," Paris, 1839; Semelaigne, "L'Aliénation mentale dans l'Antiquité," Paris, 1869; Dagron, "Des Alienés," Paris, 1875; also Calmeil, "De la Folie," Sprenger, and especially Isensée, "Geschichte der Medicin," Berlin, 1840.
  2. It is, indeed, extremely doubtful whether Plato himself or his contemporaries knew anything of evil demons, this conception probably coming into the Greek world, as into the Latin, with the Oriental influences that began to prevail about the time of the birth of Christ; but to the early Christians a demon was a demon, and Plato's, good or bad, were pagan, and therefore devils.