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Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy

Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy

by Meghan, 4th year medical student at Exeter University

In his medical text book, Robert Burton (1577-1640) poetically exclaimed how he should “write of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy.” He documented Renaissance ideas, causes, and potential cures of melancholy in an eloquent, colloquial style.

Burton’s book is informed by the ideas of Galen and the four humors – blood, choler (yellow bile), phlegm, and black bile – and is divided into several sections of ‘types’ ranging from love melancholy to religiosity.   Burton describes a variety of different cures, from half-boiled cabbage to purging both ‘up and down.’  He also describes other common practices through the ages, such as blood-letting.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject for everyone should have a few tricks up their sleeve to combat the bad days.  Why not look (and even smile) at some of medical history’s best answers to the anatomy of melancholy?