In the European medical tradition, melancholy is the ‘pathology of solitude’ par excellence. In this paper I explore the relation between solitude and melancholy from the vantage point of 1651 – the year in which the final edition of Robert Burton’s monumental Anatomy of Melancholy and the first edition of the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes were published. The two books can be said to point different ways: the first, back through centuries of accumulated and consolidated medical, philosophical and artistic reflection about melancholic solitude; and the second, towards a philosophical and scientific culture in which this subject was more precisely but also more narrowly conceived, and in which medical and philosophical perspectives increasingly diverged from literary and artistic ones. My main task is to unpick the Burton’s view looking backwards from 1651, in which the association between melancholy and solitude was grounded in an ancient medical analysis of the passion of fear and its effects, but which had been enriched and deepened by later discussions and representations of idleness, misanthropy, contemplation, imagination, and self-reflection.
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