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Madness—The Complexity of Morals in the Light of Myth and Cult
1. Double Madness and the Problem of Causality
1.1 Cambyses and Cleomenes:
Among other things, the sacrilegious acts of the mad king consist in the desecration of Egyptian sanctuaries (3.16; 25.3; 37). The utmost profanation is his slaughter of the Apis-bull (3.27–29), whose deity he explicitly denies while stabbing the animal in the thigh:
The bull dies, his priests are whipped, the cult forbidden—Cambyses becomes guilty of active theomachy, of the killing of a god.
Herodotus lists three possible reasons as the cause of this madness, all having to do with the desecration of sanctuaries: the bribing of the Delphic Pythia to declare his rival king Demaratus illegitimate (believed in all of Greece corresponding with the Panhellenism of the sanctuary), the destruction of the sacred area in Eleusis, or the burning of the sanctuary in Argos (both credited to local sources). Having already related the story of the Delphic bribe in 6.66.2–3, Herodotus goes on to describe the Argive sacrilege. The passage closes with the repetition of the assumption of the Argives that this must have been the cause of the king’s madness (6.84), and a fourth explanation is mentioned: Cleomenes had gotten used to drinking undiluted wine like the Scythians and therefore had gone mad. Finally, Herodotus ends the discussion with his own verdict: ‘but to my thinking it was for what he did to Demaratus that he was punished thus’, 6.84.3, taking a clear stand on the subject of divine retribution.
Nevertheless, Herodotus does believe in divine retribution in this case as well, as regards the wounding. And that is not all. If we examine more closely the passage in which the Egyptians identify the killing of Apis as the cause of the madness, we encounter the following phrase:
This might just mean that the Egyptians have got it wrong. However, a strikingly similar phrase in the case of Cleomenes renders this interpretation questionable (keeping in mind that Herodotus has clearly identified the bribe of the Pythia as the cause of madness, as we have seen):
These similar, ambiguous statements regarding the point, where the madness has started, are confusing, especially in the case of Cleomenes, where Herodotus seems to actually contradict himself. What does this vagueness mean? Is the madness divine punishment or is it not?
1.2 The Tradition of Madness:
κεἰ μὴ πέποιθα, τοὖργόν ἐστ’ ἐργαστέον·
Yet even if I do not trust them, the deed must still be done.
It seems here that Orestes would even have killed his mother without having been ordered to—he is a transgressor by himself, additionally driven by the god, finally punished with madness. But let’s take into consideration Ruth Padel’s statement that Orestes goes mad because he lives in a universe “in which one divinity opposes another” (1992:48). This does not only mean Apollo on one side and the Erinyes on the other, but also the Erinyes of the father and those of the mother, as Orestes says (Cho. 283–290): Apollo threatened him with mania if he did not kill his mother: the “Furies that are destined to be brought to pass from paternal blood” (283–284) will make him mad.
- Aggression of the transgressor against the followers of a cult
- Summoning of the god by the transgressor
- (Attempted) physical abuse of the god by the transgressor
- Denial of the divinity by the transgressor
- Madness of the transgressor
- Epiphany of the god as a bull
Whoever will desecrate a sanctuary has to be completely mad beforehand.
The difficult passage is generally interpreted as the account of pathological madness being healed by cultic mania. 
1.3 The Traditionality of Mania in Herodotus: A Mythical Narrative
It is striking that the mythical model of Neoptolemos—who has murdered and then been murdered in the sanctuary—becomes a very general symbol of the (not necessarily sacrilegious) deed that turns against the evil-doer (in the sense of “harm set, harm get”). In Greek thought, there seems to be an associative link between the pattern of reversal in general and the desecration of sanctuaries in particular.
καταφέρω ποδὸς ἀκμάν,
σφαλερὰ ⟨καὶ⟩ τανυδρόμοις
κῶλα, δύσφορον ἄταν.
πίπτων δ’ οὐκ οἶδεν τόδ’ ὑπ’ ἄφρονι λύμᾳ·
I bring down my foot’s heavy-falling force.
My limbs make even fast runners fall:
a terrible disaster.
And as he falls, he knows nothing, in mad folly.
The jump does not just cause madness in others, nor does the fall necessarily cause madness in oneself—jumping and falling are interchangeable; the foot is ‘heavy-falling’ in an active ‘leap’. Likewise, Cambyses and Miltiades can be seen as actively jumping into a passively suffered misfortune, and therefore as a metaphor for the structure of mania-reversal in general: active aggression becomes passively suffered autoaggression, jumping turns into falling.
1.4 Madness and Initiation? Cleomenes, Cambyses and Anacharsis and Scyles
2. Dionysus and the Tyrant
2.1 Arion (1.23–24):
- The protagonist is threatened by sailors.
- An animal is attracted by music.
- A dolphin appears.
- The threat (1) motivates the protagonist to ride through the sea on an animal.
- The protagonist is imprisoned as a fraud.
- The protagonist is freed and rehabilitated.
- There is a monument to commemorate the story.