Mythical creatures and diseases

Mythical creatures and diseases

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The sleep of reason gives birth to monsters and the fantasies of fevered people brought monsters into the world. Psychosis and poisoning create creatures like a delusional god. But are mythical characters like werewolves or one-eyed Cyclops based on real diseases? Did beings of the myth migrate to modern medicine? Seductive sirens came from their antiquity to postmodernity on their odyssey, and the goats of the ancient Greeks lay in psychiatry with the heartbreaker Don Juan.

Billy goats

Excess wine has dangerous consequences - and where life proliferates, death is born. For the Greeks, Dionysus was the god of intoxication and fertility. He also embodied the cultivated nature, the cultivation of wine, as well as the uncontrolled nature, the unleashed lust, which also killing is not taboo.

The satyrs drink and dance with the sex god. These hybrid creatures grow goat ears, goat horns and a huge penis: the horny goats chase the nymphs and their faces exaggerate human features; possibly monkeys were a role model. Anyone who takes part in their dance will go crazy. The game of satyr grumbled about society and shaped today's satire.

Sick lust?

The grotesque phallus of goat men was already transferred by the ancient authors to excessive lust; "Satyriasis" described such sexual suffering, and the doctor Aretaios outlined this agony: Those affected by "Satyriasis" emitted a "goat-like smell" and bore the burden of a permanent erection. Aretaios was aware of the mythological background, because he wrote: "The disease has the name" Satyriasis "because of the similarity to the figure of God (Satyros pronounced Dionysus)." According to Aretoais, this sexual pressure led to death in a week.

A Roman physician of late antiquity, Caelius Aurelianus, defined the plague in a similarly nebulous way: "Satyriasis consists in a violent desire for sexual intercourse with a strong erection due to a pathological condition of the body." Which disease was meant? We still don't know. Aurelianus knew the origin: "But it is called after the satyrs, which one has to imagine as drunken and always ready for sexual intercourse, or after the effect of a plant, which is called" Satyrion ", because those who have it to themselves under erection of the genitals are stimulated to sexual desire. "

The Greeks also knew a less agitated satyriasis: Aristotle described such a rash behind the ears. In his eyes, the plagued by it resembled the pictures of the goat men.

Felbucks and heartbreakers

The Christians transformed the lustful goats into devils, even certain sex became a satanic plague and the bodily person appeared in the form of a billy goat. Sexual intercourse with this devil goat gave the witches their magical power: in the fantasy of the witch's Sabbath, the goats of antiquity leaped around. Conrad Gessner, an animal researcher of the 16th century, suspected real creatures in satyrs; he classified them among the great apes, called them "little goats", and the zoologists of modernity assumed our closest relatives as a model for the goat demons: the first Latin name for the orangutan was consequently Simia Satyrus.

Medicine used the term satyriasis to this day, and modern psychiatry understood it to mean a pathologically disturbed sex drive: Casanova and Don Juan with goat piss as a perfume are a little unarmarmant - Casanova syndrome and Don Juanismus clinically meant the same thing as stubbornness .

Romanticists in the 19th century and hippies of our time rediscovered the satyrs, moved to the beaches of the Greek myths, and soon naked wild animals lay around in Crete, who went through their satellites with their whiskers and natural deodorant.

The horror of the pan

The divine messenger Hermes and a nymph brought another goat to the mountains of Arcadia. Small horns grew on the Pan's forehead, hair covered his body, like Satyre he also chased the nymphs, but also coveted boys and goats. If the Pan grabbed a slumbering shepherd, Panolepsy shook him and paralyzed his senses. But the goat god also terrified masses of people and animals, so that they ran away in all directions. The shepherds knew the Stampede, they saw herds of animals that got out of control, overrun everything and even fell from hilltops. They explained this fear in a supernatural way: Pan terrified animals and people - in other words, panicked. The Greeks called this state panikós, the French spoke of panique in the Middle Ages and around 1500 the panic also became German. Modern psychiatry recognized the panic syndrome and the panic attacks as mental disorders.

Cyclops and sirens

One-eyed giants forged lightning like god to Zeus, and these round eyes, Greek Cyclops, had their only eyes on their foreheads. Did malformations set the example? The French naturalist Geoffrey Saint-Hillaire suspected this as early as 1836. Medicine knows such human eyes and called them Cyclops in the early modern period: a deformed skull merges both eye sockets into one and the eyeballs into one eye above the root of the nose. Saint-Hillaire called this form "Cyclocéphallie". Birth defects, however, do not explain the enormous growth of the ancient round eyes and not the eye of the doctor, but that of the paleontologist broadens the view: The Cyclops of the Odyssey live in caves on an island, and Odysseus wanders through the Mediterranean - dwarf elephants once lived in Sicily and Cyprus; their proboscis attached to the skull where the Cyclops' eye lies and these skulls were in caves in which the ancient Greeks probably found them. The skulls of dwarf elephants are still huge compared to humans. However, fantasy figures do not have to have a natural core.

The enlighteners of modernity saw in the monsters of the Middle Ages wrong interpretations of real observations; Positivism only acknowledged facts and thereby proved to be a scientific Cyclops: Without opening the second eye to the subconscious processes of the soul, it succumbed to its own siren chants. Sirens, terrible human-shaped birds, lived in the ancient myth of the sea; they stunned Odysseus' sailors with their magic voices, then they murdered those who were beguiled. The siren howling of the fire brigade pays tribute to the feathered femme fatales today.

But how did the corpulent manatees, herbivorous aquatic mammals get their Latin name "Sirenidae"; and what do newborns, whose legs grow together into a single “fish tail”, have to do with male-eating bird women? Why does medicine call such malformations sirens? The silent post of historical tradition overlooked the only factual medicine, because the scholars of the Middle Ages misinterpreted the old myths: Konrad von Megenburg equated the sirens with mermaids and gave them scales instead of feathers. In 1575 Ambroise de Paré formed a one-footed monster fish girl without arms but with wings. Geoffrey Saint-Hillaire finally referred to the malformed abdomen in infants, whose grown-together legs are actually reminiscent of Andersen's mermaid, as a siren limb.

Werewolves in madness

People are turning into wolves - people believed that from ancient times to modern times. Did diseases and exceptional mental states play into the werewolf myth? For example, he should become a wolf who rubbed his skin with an ointment made from wolf fat, poppy seeds, Christmas rose or thorn apple.

The doctor Rudolf Leubuscher suspected a "(...) perverse sensation of the peripheral skin nerves (...)" and concluded this from reports by many "werewolves" who claimed that their fur had grown inwards. This "fur" could be related to the consumption of the Eisenhut plant. Mythen narrator Sergius Golowin wrote: “Even if you combine tiny amounts of aconite with our skin, it creates a certain reduction in feeling. When people sleep, they feel their skin somehow furry. "

The Slovaks also called Vlkodlak a drinker. Extreme behavior also led to calling someone a werewolf: rage and mental illness. From the historical distance, it is difficult to say whether people believed that the person concerned had changed mentally or physically into an animal. Often they simply ascribed to him to behave like this animal: If we "let the pig out" or "are hungry like a wolf", no fur grows for us. In some cases werewolf simply meant "grim wolf". Hallucinations of addicts take the form of animals. According to Elias Canetti, alcoholics in the Trirens delirium see "spiders, beetles, bugs, snakes, rats, dogs and undefined predators". The various senses combine: "Mice and insects are not only seen, but also palpated." Canetti has a suspicion that the speculation of being a wolf leads to speculation: the alcoholic in Tremens delirium is separated from other people and thrown back on his body. In this, however, there is a “war” between bacteria that attack the cells. According to Canetti, does a “dark feeling for these primitive conditions in the body appear here?” Mixed beings also appear in the images of the delirious: “In the menageries, animals that do not exist appear in fantastic combinations (like) the creatures , with which Hieronymus Bosch populated his pictures. ”Are wolf people also a body perception in the intoxication of drugs?

Our imaginary world reflects our experiences. Baring-Gould writes: “It is not surprising that the lycanthropist believed that he had turned into an animal. In the cases I have described, it has always been shepherds whose profession inevitably entails coming into contact with wolves, and it is not surprising that such animals turn into wild animals and do themselves deeds in the state of temporary insanity blame that had been committed by the animals. "

As werewolves, suspects were often starving. On the one hand, the established people imposed any wrongdoing on these marginalized people anyway. On the other hand, we still say "I'm hungry like a wolf" or "the wind is howling". The ancient Teutons believed that a wolf really howls in the sky and starving people develop fantasies about food. Those who fantasize about devouring sheep while starving and at the same time believe that humans are transformed into animals also believe that they have become a wolf.
The compulsive idea of ​​being a wolf is called pathological lycanthropy. Torture in the witch trial and psychological terror are just as irritating as mental disorders. So were so-called werewolves behavioral people? Dinzelbacher discusses an alleged werewolf who was probably suffering from a mental disorder: “In 1603, the Bordeaux Parliament took action against the fourteen-year-old shepherd Jean Grenier, who confessed to having used wolf skin and an ointment while walking through forests and hamlets, animals and Killing children. ”According to Dinzelbacher, the boy's behavior reveals:“ Grenier's hands, his way of moving and eating are described as congruent with those of a wild animal, and the sight of wolves pleased him the most. ”A Girl named Marguerite reported: Jean claims to have sold his soul to the devil and to roam the area at night, but also during the day as a wolf. He usually ate dogs, but little girls tasted much better. He would have eaten a girl up to his shoulders, he was so hungry. This time, said Marguerite, Jean hadn't been herding sheep. But a wild animal tore her clothes off with her teeth. She would have driven the beast away with her stick. The animal would have looked very much like a wolf, but was much larger, with a reddish fur and a stubby tail. Assuming the girl was not fantasizing, it was probably a dog attack.

Jean admitted everything. The Lord of the Forests sends him to eat children. His stepmother would have separated from his father because she would have seen Jean choke a dog's paws and a child's fingers. However, his father explained that the whole world knew the son as an idiot, who had already claimed to have been in bed with every girl in the village. The judge believed the defendant to be mentally retarded and his transformations to be insane. But it was proven that he had killed children. Joseph Görres (1776-1848) wrote: "So Grenier was really running, as evidenced by the black claw-like nails, the polished teeth and the appetite for human flesh." Multiple murders, whether on four paws or two legs, usually meant death at that time. The court does not seem to have been completely convinced, because the accused did not end up at the stake, but for life imprisonment in a monastery. He devoured raw meat and his fingernails splintered because he ran on his hands, his gaze stared into the void, his mind could not be moved. He said that he continued to crave children's flesh and died in 1610. Baring-Gould suspected a perceptual disorder with the "werewolf" Jean Grenier: "So Jean Grenier also spoke a lot of truthful things, but they mixed with the ramblings of his insanity corresponded. "

Blumenthal, who examined so-called wild humans, came to the following conclusion: “Wild humans do not necessarily live with the wolves. They are outsiders because they are locked in on themselves. They are hardly able to grasp their own environment and inner world differently, at least in a way that would be accessible to us. ”

Leubuscher pointed out that when there is a fever, the body feeling changes so that the limbs appear larger or smaller. In the case of typhoid fever, the patients believed that their person was physically divided into two people. In fever, it appears as if the limbs are expanding or contracting.

Multiple personalities split off content of consciousness as a result of traumatic experiences. Sophia, a victim, reports: “At the age of seven, my older classmates abused me. This is the linchpin of the split and the multiple personality. As a small child, I dreamed of Alashtika, who said, "I am your real mother, and one day I will pick you up. Alakchika had disappeared after the abuse and I felt like an alien, like the only one of my kind. When I am in my main personality, I know when Alexa takes control or the seven-year-old girl does not. I change and I don't notice the change. My voice is different, my writing is different. I wake up and don't know what she did like a drunk. When I wake up, I feel haunted by evil spirits. "Who was that?" I ask. And I answer: "It was me." But the person who I am when I wake up was not. "People who suffer from traumas, from borderline syndrome or from manic depression, feel separated from their bodies, feel that there is something in them over which they have no control. The "bad wolf" is their own unconscious and many of them identify with the werewolf.

Epidemic vampires

Werewolves are living people with magical powers. Ghosts are disembodied spirits. However, the vampires of cultural history are extremely physical: they hit, bite and choke. They appear as decaying corpses, closer to zombie films than Twillight - Schönlingen. The vampire, the Turkish upir, is expressly not a dream figure. Torn clothes or bruises testify to his presence. In the early Middle Ages, people were afraid of the dead walking around: cut heads prove that these monsters were thought to be living corpses.

The Southeast European scientist Peter Kreuter examined vampire performances in the Balkans and his result amazed: The vampire in Serbia, Montenegro or Albania is not a bloodsucker, but a strangler. There is a reason for that. Traditionally, vampires cause disease. Infection from a bite is a modern idea. It requires knowledge of viruses and bacteria. In the Middle Ages, bad air was around an undead to spread disease.

Medical explanations for vampire beliefs range from porphyria, an extremely rare disease associated with facial paralysis and sensitivity to light, to rabies. With rabies, red secretions flow out of body openings, the eyes sparkle feverishly, the tongue comes out of the neck and the teeth emerge. Only: Vampires of popular culture are dead and buried before they become vampires. Doctors who suspect porphyria and rabies behind the vampire belief have Count Dracula in the film in their head and know nothing about the completely different ideas of popular culture.

Nosferatu deflates the Greek Nosophoros

(Epidemic). Medieval vampires and followers transmit disease, not by biting, but by calling the names of the victims, ringing the bells, or simply roaming around, spreading 'bad air'. Friedrich Murnau's "Nosferatu - A Symphony of Horror" was published in 1922. Count Orlok, the vampire, is a bald, stiff figure and very inhumane. This creature brings the plague, like rodents follow the rat catcher of Hameln. Orlok is a character from a nightmare, lit in a lifelike way, "Nosferatu" one of the defining works of the horror film. As a naturalized nightmare, it is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft. Nature and occultism, dream and reality, man and animal merge in the count. No other vampire film corresponds so much to the epidemic of popular belief as the “Symphony of Horror”.

Some of the "living dead" were probably not dead at all. In the Middle Ages, scholarly medicine reached only a few wealthy people, the ordinary people were dependent on hangmen, herbalists or bathers. The bloodletting was often more suitable to bring the patient down than to heal him. Tankred Koch calculates that the doctors draw up to 2.5 liters of blood: the patients could be happy if they were only apparently dead. A woodcut from 1604 shows spirits of plague dead who rose. It is likely that unconscious people were buried with the dead in epidemics and returned.

Book tip: Errors and counterfeits of archeology. Nünnerich Asmus (NA) Verlag Mainz 2018

The exhibition "Errors and Counterfeits of Archeology" will run in the Römer Pelizaeus Museum Hildesheim until May 2019. This has something to do with mythical creatures because the mysterious unicorn also has its own area. The exhibition catalog of the same name has been published by Nünnerich Asmus Verlag. While the biologist Josef Reichholf traces the unicorn to the Indian rhinoceros on the one hand, and to the African oryx antelopes on the other, the accompanying volume to the exhibition deals with the religiously charged meanings of the fantastic creature and how it entered the pre-phase of paleontology in 1633, when the skull of a prehistoric wool rhinoceros was probably interpreted as a unicorn. In addition, there are knowledgeable essays on Schliemann's Troy, misinterpretations of the Egyptian hieroglyphs by Athanasius Kirchner or misinterpretations of objects from the Merovingian period.
After this part about errors, there are tangible forgeries such as fake terracottas from the East Bank or the Hitler diaries.
The catalog provides insights into theses that are still popular today and are nevertheless false, and at the same time shows the methods of scientific archeology. It also critically proves that historians and archaeologists can only ever approach the truth, even with the most up-to-date use of the latest techniques, and that misinterpretations still occur today. This is a reminder not only in terms of the past, but also in the age of “fake news”. An insightful catalog, which you should read best after the special exhibition.
(Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Utz Anhalt: The werewolf. Selected aspects of a figure in the history of myths with special reference to rabies. Master's thesis history. E-text in historicum net under witch research.

Norbert Borrmann: Vampirism or the longing for immortality. Kreuzlingen / Munich 1998

Claude Lecouteux: The History of the Vampires. Metamorphosis of a myth. Dusseldorf 2001

Christa A. Tuczay: The Heart Eaters. Vienna 2007.

Axel Karenberg: Amor, Äskulap & Co. Classic mythology in the language of modern medicine. Stuttgart 2005.

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