Sunday, May 15, 2022

Question from Sally - Phobias in Tudor times

How were phobias seen/regarded/treated in this time? Just to name some; arachnophobia, acrophobia, social phobia, claustrophobia; etc. Did people treat those that had them with respect and kindness, or did they shun them from proper Tudor society regarding them as an oddity, a freak, or 'mad'?

1 comment:

PhD Historian said...

Another question that assumes modern concepts to have been present in pre-modern times. While the word "phobia" has its origins in ancient Greek, it meant "flight from some kind of danger." It did not begin to be used in the modern sense of an irrational fear until the nineteenth century (1800s). Further, I am not aware of any documentation of persons in the Tudor era who had irrational fears that others would have viewed as anything more than slightly odd or eccentric. And in a world in which so many natural phenomena were mysterious and unexplained, it becomes difficult to draw a line between normal and abnormal. Was a medieval anchorite (you can look it up) exceptionally religiously pious or simply agoraphobic? Was it "irrational" to fear spiders or snakes in an era before modern medicine and an understanding of venom toxicity? Was it irrational to fear large bodies of water when ships sank so easily (e.g.: The White Ship, the Mary Rose). My sense of it is that persons with what we would today call a phobia would have been judged according to the degree to which their phobia manifested itself. Phobias with mild manifestations, such as those commonly seen with fears of spiders, snakes, rats, or mice, might be easily dismissed by others as mildly odd or simply eccentric. Fears that impaired one's ability to lead an otherwise normal life might be viewed as madness, if the manifestation was severe enough. But the bottom line is that it is VERY dangerous territory to attempt to assess and evaluate mental health issues in a world before "mental health" was even defined or before the practice of psychology and psychiatry were even invented.