In 1621, Robert Burton published The Anatomy of Melancholy. It was the first attempt in the modern western world to understand and categorise causes, symptoms and treatments of that universal human experience.
Writing from Oxford where he was a life-long scholar, librarian of Christ Church and a vicar, Burton drew on the writing of others and also his own experiences.
Four hundred years on, when clinical depression is stated to be the leading cause of global disability, and there are many challenges to our mental health, a new series for BBC Radio 4 is asking: how far have we come? And is there anything we can learn from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy to help us today?
This new BBC Radio 4 series will run across two weeks from Monday 11 May, Mon-Fri, 1.45 pm, with an omnibus edition on Friday evenings.
Simon Russell Beale will read sections of The Anatomy throughout.
Professor John Geddes, Head of Department, will feature in episodes 1, 2 and 10. He has also been a series consultant.
When I moved to Sheffield to do my initial training in Psychiatry, I discovered this three-volume, 19th-century copy of The Anatomy of Melancholy in a second hand bookshop, and it's been with me ever since. I continually referred to it because it comes from outside the standard medical narrative on mental health. It's much more all-embracing.Professor John Geddes, Head, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.
In episode 1, Amy Liptrot travels to the Bodleian Library where Burton discovered many of his sources. She meets Dr Katherine Murphy from Oxford’s Faculty of English and together they look at one of Burton’s own early editions of The Anatomy with his hand-scribbled notes.
Cell biologist Lewis Wolpert, whose own struggles with depression led him to write Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression, shares his experiences and what helped him to recover.
Professor David Clark, Chair of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, and one of the pioneers of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), reveals his vision for future treatments of mental health disorders.
As Burton drew on the writing of others and made a patchwork of texts within his Anatomy of Melancholy, each episode ends with a modern-day contribution for a new and updated Anatomy of Melancholy.