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Audionatomy of Melancholy
May 14, 2011 2:47 PM   Subscribe

A discussion on BBC Radio 4 of Robert Burton's 17th-century compendium The Anatomy Of Melancholy. Examining the medical, literary, political, and religious influences of this enormous work, as well as how it contributed to those same fields over its many years of revisions and continuing popularity. Not exactly thorough (how could it be?) but an interesting listen.
posted by BlackLeotardFront (26 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I haven't had a chance to listen to this In Our Time episode yet, but the host, Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg at that), is one of the best things that ever happened to radio as a medium. The series (covered before on the blue) is nearly always a delight, whatever the topic of the week is.
posted by bouvin at 3:07 PM on May 14, 2011


Anatomy of Melancholy has its charms. But it's too damned long. If you're going to the 16th and 17th centuries, you'd do better to read Shakespeare, Donne or Montaigne. Not only are they comparative masters of brevity, you'll actually get some genuine, useful insights into mental disorders.
posted by Faze at 3:14 PM on May 14, 2011


it may be easier to subscribe to the podcast version or direct link to the mp3
posted by stuartmm at 3:22 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recently caught the In Our Time bug and torrented 10 years of episodes. Got a lot of catching up to do. This one is queued up.
posted by stargell at 3:23 PM on May 14, 2011


> you'll actually get some genuine, useful insights into mental disorders

OTOH, assuming a desire to know Latin counts as a mental disorder, the Anatomy is the first thing to read when you're done with Latin I. Before Caesar, before any of the hot bits in Catullus even. When you've done the Latin quotations in AoM (half the book, not much of an exaggeration) you'll have pretty much all the most quotable Latin clips, rips, and bleeding hunks known to educated Englishmen in the 19th, 18th, and 17th centuries in your pocket (along with some impressive obscurities--Macrobius, forsooth) as well as a good clear view of which classical writers such Englishmen though were worth quoting, hence which volumes somebody with an unaccountable desire to become educated in that same tradition should go on to read whole.

Think of the Anatomy as the leading FOSS CD/DVD ripper of its own century and several more thereafter.
posted by jfuller at 3:38 PM on May 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


Think of the Anatomy as the leading FOSS CD/DVD ripper of its own century and several more thereafter.

This is hilarious. Love it.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:50 PM on May 14, 2011


A particularly good episode of IOT, I thought. Loved the bit about Burton collecting plays in which he appeared as a character.

the host, Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg at that), is one of the best things that ever happened to radio as a medium.

You probably already subscribe, but just in case, Big Melv writes a great IOT newsletter which features snippets of green room chat that didn't make the broadcast, completely off-topic musings, &c.. It's basically his weblog, without being a weblog. (This week's edition included the titbit that The Anatomy of Melancholy went from 35,863 to 135 on the Amazon bestseller list after the programme aired, which is pretty incredible.)

Anatomy of Melancholy has its charms. But it's too damned long. If you're going to the 16th and 17th centuries, you'd do better to read Shakespeare, Donne or Montaigne.

Yeah, I bought my copy sometime in the late 1990s and still haven't finished it (or have, and started re-reading it without realising). It works quite well as a 'standby' book, digested in little chunks over time.

I recently caught the In Our Time bug and torrented 10 years of episode

*runs Googlewards*
posted by jack_mo at 3:56 PM on May 14, 2011




OTOH, assuming a desire to know Latin counts as a mental disorder, the Anatomy is the first thing to read when you're done with Latin I. Before Caesar, before any of the hot bits in Catullus even. When you've done the Latin quotations in AoM (half the book, not much of an exaggeration) you'll have pretty much all the most quotable Latin clips, rips, and bleeding hunks known to educated Englishmen in the 19th, 18th, and 17th centuries in your pocket (along with some impressive obscurities--Macrobius, forsooth) as well as a good clear view of which classical writers such Englishmen though were worth quoting, hence which volumes somebody with an unaccountable desire to become educated in that same tradition should go on to read whole.

Also, even in the latest NYRB edition, the juiciest bits of the Anatomy are untranslated from Latin to keep the prying eyes of the uneducated away.
posted by nasreddin at 4:00 PM on May 14, 2011


chavenet, i love you! (my pet rabbit ate my previous copy.)
posted by mochapickle at 5:07 PM on May 14, 2011


I've been listening to podcasts of In Our Time for a few months now and the discussions on there are consistently fan-fucking-tastic.
posted by zzazazz at 6:06 PM on May 14, 2011


> even in the latest NYRB edition, the juiciest bits of the Anatomy are untranslated from Latin
> to keep the prying eyes of the uneducated away.

You've got to be kidding me. Tell me you're kidding old jfuller, n. The whole point of Burton as the Schoolboy's Friend is that whenever he tosses out a phrase in L he immediately-and-at-once also renders it into E. "Ignis pepercit, unda mergit, aeris/ Vis pestilentis aequori ereptum necat/ Bello superstes, tabidus morbo perit. (Whom fire spares, sea doth drown; whom sea,/ Pestilent air doth send to clay;/ Whom war escapes, sickness takes away.)" And since so many of the things Burton chose to quote were also commonly set as translate-me questions on exams, a decent familiarity with the Anatomy could very well get you through an exam for which you were otherwise not so well prepared due to not having, y'know, read the assigned material. You might get at least a pass because Burton cherry-picked your material for you in advance.

If some gang of editors has cut any of Burton's own Englishing, they are not only Bowdlerizers but also have missed the point of the Anatomy as both an important work in its own right and also a fat and well known Cliff's Notes of several centuries' standing--a howler that strikes me as enough to dump those selfsame editors in with the rest of the uneducated. IMHO, of course.
posted by jfuller at 6:23 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, there's the tags Burton tosses out, and then the "juiciest bits", which he probably didn't English.

Think of the practice of the Loeb Classical Library in translating Greek texts: mostly they're translated from Greek to English, but anything licentious is translated from Greek to … Latin.
posted by kenko at 7:20 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Opening the NYRB Anatomy to various random pages reveals that most of the Latin is given an English rendering, but not all; for instance, on pp 192–93 of the third partition, "nec minus erucas aptum est vitare salaces / et quicquid veneri corpora nostra parat" and "animæ virus et vitiorum fomes" are translated, but "qui ad impatientiam amoris leniendam, per singulas fere noctes novas puellas devirginavit" and "tument tibi quum inguina, num si / ancilla, aut verna præsto est, tentigine rumpi / malis? non ego namque, etc." are not.
posted by kenko at 7:27 PM on May 14, 2011


Nevertheless, the NYRB "Note on the Text" says:
As in later reprints of The Anatomy since the edition of 1800, the choice of type, punctuation, and spelling in this edition has been in the interest of clarity and agreeableness to a present-day reader. Where it does not interfere with Burton's own paraphrase, translations have been added to the quotations from Latin and Greek, and a glossary of archaic words follows the third partition.
This is, of course, not completely true, as we have seen in my comment of 7:27 (vide supra). Moreover, there's the Latin text—to which nasredding was doubtless referring—which is the product of Burton's own hand, as in p 194 of the Third Partition, whose only full paragraph is entirely Latin, but contains no indication whatsoever that it's a quotation.
posted by kenko at 7:41 PM on May 14, 2011


Yep, check out this bit from 3.ii.1 (I am too lazy to try to translate this, but much of it can probably be figured out from context):
Semiramis equo, Pasiphae tauro, Aristo Ephesius asinae se commiscuit, Fulvius equae, alii canibus, capris, &c., unde monstra nascuntur aliquando, Centauri, Sylvani, et ad terrorem hominum prodigiosa spectra: Nec cum brutis, sed ipsis hominibus rem habent, quod peccatum Sodomiae vulgo dicitur; et frequens olim vitium apud Orientalis illos fuit, Graecos nimirum, Italos, Afros, Asianos: Hercules Hylam habuit, Polycletum, Dionem, Perithoonta, Abderum et Phryga; alii et Euristium ab Hercule amatum tradunt. Socrates pulchrorum Adolescentum causa frequens Gymnasium adibat, flagitiosque spectaculo pascebat oculos, quod et Philebus et Phaedon, Rivales, Charmides et reliqui Platonis Dialogi, satis superque testatum faciunt: quod vero Alcibiades de eodem Socrate loquatur, lubens conticesco, sed et abhorreo; tantum incitamentum praebet libidini. At hunc perstrinxit Theodoretus lib. de curat. graec. affect. cap. ultimo. Quin et ipse Plato suum demiratur Agathonem, Xenophon, Cliniam, Virgilius Alexin, Anacreon Bathyllum: Quod autem de Nerone, Claudio, caeterorumque portentosa libidine memoriae proditum, mallem a Petronio, Suetonio, caeterisque petatis, quando omnem fidem excedat, quam a me expectetis; sed vetera querimur. Apud Asianos, Turcas, Italos, nunquam frequentius hoc quam hodierno die vitium; Diana Romanorum Sodomia; officinae horum alicubi apud Turcas,—qui saxis semina mandant—arenas arantes; et frequentes querelae, etiam inter ipsos conjuges hac de re, quae virorum concubitum illicitum calceo in oppositam partem verso magistratui indicant; nullum apud Italos familiare magis peccatum, qui et post Lucianum et Tatium, scriptis voluminibis defendunt. Johannes de la Casa, Beventinus Episcopus, divinum opus vocat, suave scelus, adeoque jactat, se non alia, usum Venere. Nihil usitatius apud monachos, Cardinales, sacrificulos, etiam furor hic ad mortem, ad insaniam. Angelus Politianus, ob pueri amorem, violentas sibi inanus injecit. Et horrendum sane dictu, quantum apud nos patrum memoria, scelus detestandum hoc saevierit! Quum enim Anno 1538. prudentissimus Rex Henricus Octavus cucullatorum coenobia, et sacrificorum collegia, votariorum, per venerabiles legum Doctores Thomam Leum, Richardum Laytonum visitari fecerat, &c., tanto numero reperti sunt apud eos scortatores, cinaedi, ganeones, paedicones, puerarii, paederastae, Sodomitae, (Balei verbis utor) Ganimedes, &c. ut in unoquoque eorum novam credideris Gomorrham. Sed vide si lubet eorundem Catalogum apud eundem Balcum; Puellae(inquit) in lectis dormire non poterant ob fratres necromanticos. Haec si apud votarios, monachos, sanctos scilicet homunciones, quid in foro, quid in aula factum suspiceris? quid apud nobiles, quid inter fornices, quam non foeditatem, quam non spurcitiem? Sileo interim turpes illas, et ne nominandas quidem monachorum mastrupationes, masturbatores.
posted by nasreddin at 7:53 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the untranslated passages are probably due to the NYRB using an old public domain edition and not bothering to proof or edit it thoroughly.
posted by nasreddin at 7:57 PM on May 14, 2011


You got me, both of you. However--trust me, none of that will be on the exam.
posted by jfuller at 7:57 PM on May 14, 2011


I'm sure the 1989 Oxford edition has those passages translated in footnotes.
posted by jrochest at 8:45 PM on May 14, 2011


They don't discuss the mysterious circumstances surrounding Burton's death. Burton is listed in Brewer's Encyclopedia as unique in that he successfully predicted, through astrological means, the day of his death. However, John Aubrey in his Brief Lives records the rumours circulating around Christ Church that Burton hanged himself in his room.
posted by Tarn at 11:00 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


jrochest - the Oxford edition isn't really ideal either: it costs a fortune, & runs to six volumes, three of which are devoted to the editors' notes & commentary.
posted by misteraitch at 2:09 AM on May 15, 2011


In Our Time is one of my favorite podcasts. I've been listening to it for years, on drives, walks, snowshoeing.

It's a lot of fun to play to academics. They are initially nonplussed by the lack of audio fx (no music, sound fx) and the headlong speed... then they get caught up, somewhere in the mental space between good panel discussion and grad school conversation.

Despite Will Self's hating it.
posted by doctornemo at 8:02 AM on May 15, 2011


Melancholy is a bit tendentious and Burton's POV grates after a while. In an early example of an intertextual cut-up-and-remix technique, 18th Century Irish writer Sterne lifted entire sections of Melancholy and cut them up them into Tristram Shandy, presumably as a satire about Melancholy's reliance upon hermeticism and crypto-scholasticism to impress readers. For the longest time, nobody noticed, which says something both about the sheer length of Shandy and the popular-but-largely-unread Melancholy (ala the commodius vicus of recirculation within 'Finn Again's Awake').
posted by meehawl at 10:31 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shandy isn't that long.
posted by kenko at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2011


I'm really nervous about listening to this one, given my standard rule that I hate IOTs where I know a fair amount about the topic, either because Lord Melv directs the discussion in daft directions, or because the academics take liberties to accommodate him.

If you're going to the 16th and 17th centuries, you'd do better to read Shakespeare, Donne or Montaigne.

I'd say you're wrong, but for an interesting reason. The scholarly generation that followed Burton -- Descartes and Spinoza on the continent, the Oxford scholars around John Wilkins from 1648 onwards, Newton and Locke a little later -- transformed the way his topic would be approached in future. It's hard to imagine Anatomy of Melancholy being written much earlier or later than it was. So while Burton's influence lasts, it's as a representative of where the Renaissance Line comes to a terminus: all change for the Enlightenment.
posted by holgate at 10:00 PM on May 16, 2011


Doctornemo- I read the Will Self link quickly (I'm at work so may have missed some snideness) but he seems to praise IOT in the link? Why do you say that he hates it?
posted by Gratishades at 7:20 AM on May 18, 2011


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