Type of Work

Research Paper - Limited Access

Publication Date



Disability is and has always been culturally and historically contingent; each society and culture treats different conditions as disabling. In this paper, I suggest that, in addition to physical and intellectual impairments, the ancient Greeks and Romans considered an abundance of various emotions, which I call “hyper-emotion,” to be disabling. My research focuses on hyper-emotion, which I explain as an abundance of emotion that caused an individual to ignore their responsibilities or violate societal norms. To support this argument I examine a diverse array of primary sources, drawn from mythological literature, medical texts, laws and legal opinions, and philosophical treatises. My argument culminates with a detailed study of Seneca’s Medea, which suggests that an unchecked abundance of numerous emotions determines Medea’s villainous characterization. I combine these primary sources with contemporary critical theory in disability studies. I conclude that disability, as most people think of it, is a construct. In every society, the definition of disability changes to reflect individual cultural values, and the flexibility inherent in disability means that different conditions may be considered disabling in different societies. However, this doesn’t mean that those disabilities are specific to one culture. We find problems with emotional abundance in our own society, but there is no category for emotional disabilities. The radical difference of disabilities in classical antiquity can help us reframe the way in which we approach emotion and disability in modernity.

Hamilton Areas of Study


Hamilton Sponsoring Organization

Levitt Public Affairs Center

Hamilton Scholarship Series

Levitt Summer Research Fellowship

Hamilton Faculty Advisor

Jesse Weiner