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Padel, R. (1996). Tragic Greek madness: inner shadow versus seeing in the dark. Free Associations, 6(3):403-427.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(3):403-427

Tragic Greek madness: inner shadow versus seeing in the dark

Ruth Padel

There is a mass of madness in ‘Greek’ tragedy, in, that is, the thirty-one tragedies surviving from hundreds written in the small town of Athens between 470 and 400 B.C. It is an oddity of history that the attitudes to madness of this tiny, time-bound society, interacting with those of background Greek culture, made madness central to tragedy as a genre ever after, for many different, and essentially alien, cultures. Athenian tragedy's madness furnished models of madness to which antiquity, the Renaissance, and the modern world, all automatically looked when exploring their own local, often very different, explanations of madness.

How did this happen?

We start with Athenian tragedy's vision of normal consciousness. Tragedy inherited a general discourse of darkness about the human interior. We inherit it, too, though overlain by extra associations from many intervening societies. In Greece, this discourse was related, though for us it is not, to ideas of innards, the imagined site of consciousness. These innards were definingly dark. Their darkness intensified in passion and madness (Padel, 1992, pp. 68-78).

Black innards, blackly working consciousness, were normal. Darkness was a condition of consciousness.

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