From a book I’ve been reading by Daniel Hack Tuke 

Insanity in ancient and modern life : with chapters on its prevention

It was published in 1878.    

I will not copy the whole chapter of the book


Insanity in ancient and modern life : with chapters on its prevention

Chapter II.


Passing from wholly uncivilized men to a higher grade, we may apply the same tests to the state of society depicted in the early and some of the later books of the Old Testament, and then to Egyptian, Greek, and Roman society, the problem for solution being whether the character and extent of their social condition were such as to render it highly probable that they were subjected to the same causes of insanity as ourselves, or causes equally potent.

Intoxication.—Noah planted a vineyard, and what followed is of especial importance to us, because in it we are obliged to recognise one of the frequent causes of insanity. In the Jewish Mashal, it is related how that when Noah came to plant his vineyard, Satan joined him and asked, “What are you planting?”

He replied, “A vineyard,” 

“For What purpose,” rejoined Satan?

“Its fruits,” answered the Patriarch, “are sweet whether used fresh or dry, and wine is made from them which rejoices the heart.” 

“Then shall we two work at it together,” observed the Enemy. 

Whether Noah was often drunk we do not know, but it may safely be inferred that it was no unusual thing for his immediate, as well as his subsequent, descendants to be intoxicated. (Footnote*Later on vineyards are constantly mentioned. Horne observes that the wines of Canaan, being heady, were commonly mixed with water. The luxurious prepared them with spices (Edersheim).

In Deuteronomy, the parents of a rebellious son are commanded to bring him to the elders of the city and say, “This our son is a glutton and a drunkard,” in order that he should be stoned. The fact that Eli thought Hannah drunk when she came into the temple, the simile of David, “stagger like a drunken man,” and of Isiah “as a drunken man staggerith in his vomit,” and his complaint that he was the song of the drunkards, and the remonstrance of Joel, “Awake, ye drunkards, weep and howl”—these facts show how well-known was the sin of drunkenness. 

From all this we see clearly that intemperance was quite sufficiently prevalent among the Hebrews to cause a certain amount of mental disease; at the same time there is ample proof of its not having been the scourge of society which it is among some nations of the West. The Jew bears the character of being sober at the present day. Mr. Stallard, in his valuable work on London Pauperism amongst Jews and Christians, says that drunkenness is rarely the cause of distress among the former, and that a Jew’s sobriety gives him a marked advantage in all branches of common labour. “The visitor of the Jewish district is forcibly struck with the consequences of this sobriety. The houses of the poor are, on the whole, cleaner, more tidy, and more comfortable, than amongst the poorest English. The children are always better clothed and more cleanly, their round and ruddy faces presenting a strong contrast to the pale and scrofulous countenances of English children living in the same overcrowded courts. . . . . .  Everywhere in the Jewish houses there is less of that squalid destitution which is a result of intemperance.  Nowhere is it possible to find Jewish men and women with bloated and waxy faces, standing at the doors of public-houses, as do the sots whom no charity can help, no philanthropy reclaim. Home is the centre of their happiness. and the love of the family is worthy of all praise. Desertion is comparatively rare, and brutal violence to the women and children utterly unknown amongst them” (op. cit. p.11). Edersheim says the Jews were always very moderate in their potations, except on festive occasions, and maintains that drunkenness was never one of their national sins.  

Defective Nourishment, Poverty, &c., as shown in the Mode of Life.—The lives of the patriarchs unquestionably indicate a condition of life which, compared with our own, was exceedingly simple. although by no means savage—one much more in accordance with nature, far less moulded by artificial wants. It is true that Abraham was “very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold,” and also in menservants and maidservants, yet he runs to the field, on a well-known occasion, and fetches a calf for his guests, and it would seem even dresses it himself. As the custom was, he stood, and they took their meal under the tree, as is done to this day in the East. Rebekah comes forth with her pitcher on her shoulder at the well to meet Eleazer. There is, indeed, a remarkable mixture of the primitive simplicity of pastoral life with certain luxuries, or at least elegancies, for even then Abraham’s servant presents her with earrings and with bracelets. These, however, may have been nothing more than the ornaments worn by savages at the present day. Rachel tended the sheep ; and Jethro’s daughter had the charge of his flocks, although he was a prince. They were dwellers in tents, like the modern Arabs, and occasionally in caves, like Lot and his daughters, and in houses of stone, or mud, or wood. We read, indeed, as we extend our survey to a later period of Hebrew history, of ivory palaces in the Psalms, and of the ivory house of Ahab, probably houses only ornamented with ivory, but any way indicating some artistic development. Then as to dress, we find garments manufactured from wool and flax mentioned in Leviticus and Proverbs, while the wealthy indulged in fine linen and purple or scarlet silk. Rings and seals were frequently worn even in early times, and we read of chains on the neck, and tinkling ornaments on the feet. Rebekah’s bracelets we have already mentioned. Men also wore them—as Judah and Saul. Jezebel painted her face or darkened her eyes with the powder of lead ore.  Looking-glasses of polished brass were in use. 

Then, as to the occupations of the ancients of the Bible, they were, we well know, mainly pastoral and agricultural—in the early times, almost exclusively so. The people were shepherds and husbandmen. 

Moses was a shepherd. A judge in Israel—Shamgar—was taken from tending herd. and Jephthah from the sheep. Gideon left his threshing floor. Even when Saul was king, we find him coming out of the field after the herd, at the time he was informed of the danger a certain city was in. David was brought from feeding the ewes. One king—Uzziah—is stated to have been a lover of husbandry. Elisha was called from the plough. Amos was a herdsman. Women of quality, so to speak, also, as we have seen, tended sheep. There were in early days artificers in iron and brass, in instruments of music also, and afterwards there are occasional indications of art. The golden calf shows some artistic power. In Chronicles we read, after Joshua’s death, of the valley of Charashim, where the craftsmen dwelt. Chariots were built, images sculptured. Smiths are mentioned in the days of Saul as being seized by the Philistines, and they and craftsmen (in addition to barbers, bakers, potters, and fullers) were carried away into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. Horne says that among the Hebrews, artificers were not, as among the Greeks and Romans, slaves, but men of rank and wealth. He points out that although before the Israelites entered Canaan, Bezaleel and Aholiab excelled in their workmanship of the tabernacle, they seem to have been without successors, for in Solomon’s time, although at leisure for art, they had no professed artists able to undertake the work of the temple, and had, therefore, to send to Hiram, King of Tyre, for a skillful artist. In science, their knowledge was probably less than that possessed by many nations, but Job and Solomon must have had considerable acquaintance with natural history. However  deficient in art and science without foreign help, their civilization was shown in their literary compositions, and especially their poetry. We have only to recall the Song of Moses, that of Deborah, Barak, and Hannah, the lamentation of David over Saul and Jonathan, to say nothing of the Psalms, PRoverbs, Canticles, &c.  In those schools of which we read in the first book of Samuel, the law must have been carefully taught, and instruction must have been given in music. By the time of David, and yet more of Solomon, very considerable advance must have been made in knowledge and civilization.

We also witness the development of luxury and of the vices incidental to such a state of society as must have existed under Solomon. Those referred to in the book of Proverbs must have had a certain influence in producing mental disorders. We can speak no longer of primitive simplicity, although we might still contrast the society of Jerusalem at this period with that of our modern capitals. 

As to poverty, it was said indeed that the poor should never cease out of the land, and the poor are frequently mentioned in the Jewish writings. Some, at least in the days of Solomon, were observed to become poor through drink. “The drunkard shall come to poverty.” IT is not, however, to be supposed that the depths of poverty and misery familiar to ourselves were reached by large masses of the people. Beggars, properly speaking, except those afflicted with disease were unknown in Palestine and to a great extent are so still among Jews. 

Causes Chiefly Moral.—As regards profligate immorality, the references to it are numerous enough, but, as a whole, the Jewish nation cannot be regarded as having stood low in this respect. As to other emotional excitors and depressants, they no doubt exercised a certain influence in the direction of insanity, but still a limited one compared with that of modern society. The same remark applies to intellectual strain. 

Take next Egyptian civilisation. Nothing can be more wonderful; and the more we know of it, the more wonderful does it appear. The earliest writings of Egypt (some of them the earliest writings in the world) reveal a social condition and a state of morals which leave no room for doubt as to the remarkable advance made in civilised life centuries before Abraham visited Egypt. The question is, was it ever comparable to our own in its character and extent? Were the great causes of madness, present in our age, in powerful action among the Egyptians? To glance rapidly at the first question, look at their proficiency in some of the arts. The Egyptians, although principally an agricultural people, were remarkable for their inventions, and as manufacturers were celebrated for their fine linen, cotton and woollen stuffs, and their taste in porcelain and gold and silver articles, while the cabinet-makers turned out excellent work. (Footnote:  Wilkinson’s Ancient Egypt, vol. ii. pp. 109, 247.)  Pharaoh arrayed Joseph not only in fine linen, but put a gold chain about his neck and a ring upon his hand. MAny of the bracelets, rings, and earrings discovered in Egypt, which are at least four thousand years old, show the advance made in goldsmith’s work. In the Leyden Papyrus the following curious satire on the luxury of the day occurs; at least it seems reasonable to regard it in this light, “All manner of jewels are found on the necks of slave women; honourable women and mistresses of houses are saying ‘Would that we had enough to eat!’ ”  The hieroglyphics on obelisks, &c., were sculptured in a way which surprises the workman of the present day with his tools of exquisitely tempered steel, as I have been assured by the proprietor of well known granite works in England. Their rich sculpture and the beautifully clear execution of their drawings were combined with a knowledge of the harmony of colours. Geometry would seem to have originated with the Egyptians. MAthematics are said to have made almost as much progress at the time of the earliest extant monuments as at a much later period. Then the ancient Egyptians are generally believed to have invented the art of writing. Through their power of committing their thoughts to paper, we know (from the Book of the Dead) what their sentiments were in regard to the future, and that they believed in the immortality of the soul. They cultivated the study of Medicine and Surgery, and their second King (Athothes) wrote upon Anatomy, while another Egyptian composed six books on Medicine. Each doctor practised his particular branch; some were oculists, some dentists, some treated internal maladies. The  mummies show that the art of stopping teeth with gold was known to the Egyptian dentists. If of Medicine they had a remarkable knowledge, and if in Divinity—notwithstanding their degraded notions in regard to the worship of animals—they had certain conceptions of a lofty and spiritual nature, so also the high character of their legislation has always been admired. The condition of the women in any country is regarded with justice as some test of the degree of its refinement. They are represented in the Egyptian Sculptures as engaged in weaving and using the spindle, but they were no mere drudges. They were not obliged to remain in seclusion, or if they left the house to wear a veil, as in the East ; nay, it would seem, according to Diodorus, that so great was their influence and position t5hat it was actually agreed in the marriage covenant, among other things, that the wife should have control over her husband, and that no objections should be made to her commands, whatever they might be(footnote: Wilkinson. op. cit. vol. ii. p. 223)—a fine precedent for the advocates of women’s rights in our own day !

The Egyptian women were, as Mahaffy shows, good musicians, and versed in some of the other arts and sciences. But if they spun and sewed, they sported at ball and danced ; and this writer thinks that their education cannot have been very great, because they have left no literary compositions behind them. He also points out that their best-known characters, whether they appear in history or are depicted in romance, are by no means good, and contrast unfavourably with the women of the Bible. 

Recalling now the main causes of madness mentioned on a previous page, were they, let us inquire, largely present among the ancient Egyptians? 

Intoxication.—In a very old papyrus in the British Museum occurs unmistakable proof that the ancient Egyptians were no strangers to drunkenness. Here is a most interesting passage from a letter written to a teetotaller of that day,. who had evidently not kept his pledge :—

“Whereas it has been told to me that thou hast forsaken books, and devoted thyself to pleasure ; that thou goest from tavern to tavern, smelling of beer, at the time of evening : if beer gets into a man, it overcomes his mind. THou art like an oar started from its place, which is unmanageable every way; tohu art like a shrine without its god, like a house without provisions, whose walls are found shaky. Thou knowest that wine is an abomination, that thou hast taken an oath that thou wouldst not put liquor into thee. Hast thou forgotten thy resolution?”—Eleventh Letter of the Papyrus Sallier I., British Museum ; translated by Mr. Goodwin, Prolegomena to Ancient History, by Mahaffy, p. 293). 

The custom which prevailed at their feasts of handing round a small wooden image with the words “Behold this, eat, drink, and make merry ; when thou art dead, such shalt thou be” (a commentary, by the way, on “If in this life only we have hope, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die”). illustrates the drinking customs of the Egyptians on public occasions. It is stated that at the Egyptian banquets, even the ladies were carried home by their attendants drunk. (Footnote: Wilkinson’s Ancient Egypt, vol. ii.)

Wilkinson regards it as highly improbable that the Egyptians were in early times immoderately fond of delicate living, or at any period committed the excess common among Romans. The example of the priests favoured moderation. Still, before 1600 B.C. the indulgence of the higher classes had almost reached the pitch attained by the later Pharaohs. Diodorus and Plutarch assert that their primitive simplicity succumbed to luxury as early as King Menes the First. They were guilty of excesses, “especially,” this Egyptologist asserts, “in the use of wine, both on private and public occasions,. which is not concealed in the scriptures of Thebes ; and in later times, after the conquest of Egypt by the PErsians, and the accession of the Ptolemies, habits of intemperance increased to such an extent, and luxury became so general among all ranks of society, that writers who mention the Egyptians at that period, describe them as a profligate and luxurious people, given to an immoderate love of the table, and addicted to every excess in drinking. They even used excitants for this purpose, and hors d’auvres were provided to stimulate the appetite; crude cabbage provoking the desire for wine and promoting the continuation of excess” (op. cit., vol. ii., p. 381 ; and Athenaeus, vol. i., p. 56).


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