Windows on Contagion

  • Donald Beecher


Contagion is a phenomenon of transmission, generally of pathogens that attack the physical organism. Tangere, or touch, is the root of the word, suggesting a necessary proximity so that potential parasites may leap from host to host. Nevertheless, it was recognized throughout the second millennium of Western medicine that ideas and images, communicated from afar, retain their power to injure the mind and redound on the body with full psychosomatic potency. Thus it followed that the mechanisms of infection might be extended to include the transmission of those images that were capable of provoking states of disease in the body. No medical condition demonstrated the phenomenon more clearly than lovesickness (amor hereos, ilischi or philocaption), which was a form of melancholia or mania due to the unavailability of the beloved object, but more precisely to the retention in the memory of an image of the beloved that had become entirely detached from reality, resulting in desires that could not be socially directed. There was wide agreement that the eye was the point of entry of the malady because it was through the eye that the victim received the species of the object deemed beautiful and hence desirable. There was wide agreement, as well, that because this simulacrum of the beloved progressed through the mental faculties in a tyrannously coercive fashion, it must have been imbued with an innate power, such as one attributes to poison, potions, malefìcia or the evil eye.


Animal Spirit Wide Agreement Faculty Psychology Occult Power Occult Force 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Donald Beecher

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