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Interior Designs. Approaches to the Mind in the Greco-Roman World

Modern psychology is based on a conception of the human psyche as a faculty in its own right. Among its qualities is the psyche’s natural propensity to operate semi-autonomously, acting according to rules of its own. Such a view of the human psyche as an active mechanism, however, did not exist for the greater part of the Greco-Roman world. The psyche (not to be identified with the soul) was perceived as a passive, receptive element, either materialistic (part of the body) or as an emptiness within the body to be filled by elements from outside. Given the radically distinct idea of the psyche in antiquity, one should ask whether, and if so how, the conceptual apparatus of modern psychology might be used fruitfully when dealing with ancient mental phenomena. And conversely, one may ask where the qualities and capacities, which modern psychology ascribes to the psyche, were located according to ancient views, and how they were supposed to operate. What was the ancient equivalent of psychology? For the majority of ancient Greeks and Romans, divine intervention was assumed to be responsible for what are now called psychological phenomena. In this context, the divine was not always considered sublime: the designs of the gods on man’s interior were often troublesome – even fatal.

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