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August 1973

A Reappraisal of Psychiatry in the Middle Ages

Author Affiliations

Orangeburg, NY
From the Rockland State Hospital, Orangeburg, NY.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1973;29(2):276-283. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1973.04200020098014

Many popular histories of psychiatry accept prejudices equating the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages and thereby focus unduly on insanity as demonology. They fail to distinguish lay notions and professional approaches of the times, and ignore an unbroken tradition of medical empiricism.

Review of the origins of the Inquisition corrects the notion that it was established to persecute witches, hysterics, and lunatics. All natural events were viewed simultaneously as having natural and supernatural significances, and mental illnesses were not singled out from the entire range of private and public misfortunes, ranging from illness, accidents, famines, plagues, and the disasters of war. It was not until the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that the mass witchburnings and incarceration of the mentally ill occurred.