Little known, and even less forgiven

The picture is of the memorial to Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, a 17th century treatise on depression and still one of the greatest books in the history of medicine.

It is built into one of the pillars in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, as he was both a vicar in the city and one of the governors of Christ Church college.

While Burton demonstrated his remarkable scholarship in the book, he had more than simply an academic interest in the subject matter.

He suffered severe depression during his life and admitted in the preface to the book (writing under the pen name Democritus Junior), that it served to keep his spirits up by keeping him busy.

His final piece of advice to sufferers of melancholy was “be not solitary, be not idle”, which holds equally well today as it did in 1621.

The book was a huge success and was highly regarded among Burton’s peers, but he was obviously down on himself until the end, as his monument contains a curious Latin epitaph which he wrote himself. It reads:

Paucis notus, paucioribus ignotus,
Hic jacet Democritus junior
Cui vitam dedit et mortem
Ob. 8 Id. Jan. A. C. MDCXXXIX.

It apparently translates to “Little known, and even less forgiven, here lies Democritus Junior, who gave his life and death to Melancholy. Died 9th January, 1639”.

The book is still widely read and can regularly be seen on the shelves of high-street book shops.

Link to Wikipedia article on Burton’s book with link to full-text.

One Comment

  1. David Lupher
    Posted November 12, 2015 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    The Latin of Burton’s monument actually means:
    “Known to few, unknown to even fewer, here lies
    Democritus Junior, to whom melancholy gave both life and death.”

    The point of the first bit is that, due to his scholarly and reclusive nature, he didn’t get out much, and so he was known to few as a person; but his writings made him so famous that he was unknown to even fewer. Democritus Junior is the pseudonym under which he wrote the “Anatomy.” And the point of the last bit is that, while melancholy drove him to an early grave, it also gave him life—in the sense that the fame of his book will make him live on.

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