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Coming from a melancholic, I think you've mostly nailed it down pat. But I would add -- just for clarity -- that melancholics can experience joy, i.e. the deeper, inner sense of gladness, and even happiness, i.e the temporary, surface expression of gladness. It's just that, as you state, we are "allergic to cheer for cheer's sake." Smiles and laughter are both good when they arise naturally, but there's no need to force them. Kill the laugh-track!

A.C. Douglas

The great melancholic exemplar nonpareil: Oscar Levant.

Your definition's every word describes him to the proverbial T.



A fine piece of illuminating writing! My comment yesterday was one not intended to offend, but rather to commiserate with. If the comment served as the irritant sand mote that spurred this superb entry of yours, then you've made my week. I'd viewed melancholy as a less bitter dose of depression and, unlike your well-worded view of melancholy, a temporary condition. It was easier on the soul to say that I was melancholic about Bush's victory than depressed about it. Depression seemed so much of an auto-da-fe.

The Misspent Life

Well, I wasn't melancholic about Bush's victory but in general am a fairly melancholic guy. I did want to mention one thing, however. That non-smiley changes color. For those of you with laptops if you tilt your screen up and down he will turn green then yellow then orange. Neat.

Eddie Thomas

As melancholy is the humour of philosophy, I recognize the symptoms, in myself especially, but I would still hold to it being a defective condition of the soul, a falling away from the joy Ephrem mentions above. It is the defect I would choose, if I had to choose one, but that is perhaps only a sign that I am already afflicted with it and have learned to live accordingly.

When I started teaching, I thought I should attempt to afflict everyone else. Not only is that a vain endeavor, but, I have come to think, there is no obvious benefit.


What with all of the interesting comments added to this pearl of a piece, may I add a question here, hopefully to be answered by all of the other commentators.
Please offer your version of the "Water in the Glass" defintion.
If one is delightfully giddy, the glass is continuously overflowing.
If one is depressed, the glass is shattered into small pieces which cut you as you try to collect the spilling water with your hands.
If you are melancholic, the glass is......?

Lynn S

Nearly empty with just a few drops in the bottom?

Great post but I disagree with the statement that the melancholic temperament is "a mature temperament". It seems to me a self-indulgent temperament in which one massages one's own ego with the notion that being melancholy is more mature than being happy and enthusiastic. JMO

The Misspent Life

If you are melancholic the glass is somewhere where you can't reach it.

Desiderius Erasmus

Erasmus is fairly melancholic, though he claims no virtue or maturity because of it. _Pace_ Lynn S, temperaments are rather like the ancients thought: they are humours (possibly with biological roots) that we have very little power to change. Certainly willing various attitudes is possible for short periods of time (and with habit, they may have some long-term effect), but most people return to some basic default temperament over time. Happy people are fortunate this way, the pathologically depressed terribly unfortunate. We who shade towards melancholia spend much of our life in the grays. Or, perhaps, the blues.

Do be sure to find a nice large copy of Erasmus's friend Bertie's Melancholia I. Not Erasmus's favorite of his works, but it conveys a certain tristesse.


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