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The Anatomy of Melancholy [Paperback]

Robert Burton , William H. Gass
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 30 2001 New York Review Books Classics
One of the major documents of modern European civilization, Robert Burton's astounding compendium, a survey of melancholy in all its myriad forms, has invited nothing but superlatives since its publication in the seventeenth century. Lewellyn Powys called it "the greatest work of prose of the greatest period of English prose-writing," while the celebrated surgeon William Osler declared it the greatest of medical treatises. And Dr. Johnson, Boswell reports, said it was the only book that he rose early in the morning to read with pleasure. In this surprisingly compact and elegant new edition, Burton's spectacular verbal labyrinth is sure to delight, instruct, and divert today's readers as much as it has those of the past four centuries.

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Product Description

From the Publisher

This edition retains the original Latin, while providing bracketed English translations.

About the Author

Robert Burton (1577-1640) was elected a student of Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1599 and took his B.D. in 1614. He served as a vicar in Oxford and then as the rector of Seagrave. The Anatomy of Melancholy appeared in five editions during the author's lifetime and has been reprinted countless times since.

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First Sentence
VADE liber, qualis, non ausim dicere, felix, Te nisi felicem fecerit Alma dies. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely the Best Book Ever Written...Bar None Feb. 24 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
First of all, one has a very difficult problem in defining exactly what this compendium is. Is it a book, a poem, a history, an epic? Well, I think it is all of those and many more. The Anatomy of Melancholy is, without a doubt, the best book ever written, bar none.
It was compliled from all the books of the 17th century and is not really about melancholy, per se. It is, rather, Robert Burton's view of mankind and mankind's condition. All mankind. And all conditions. It is about melancholia, sure, but it is about everything else as well. Melancholia was just Burton's excuse to write about everything under the sun in a strikingly original way and then have the nerve to remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. This is a book filled with both endless quotes and endless quotable material and, to the surprise of many, it is a comic masterpiece. Perhaps "the" comic masterpiece. Burton chose to publish this book as having been written by "Democritus Junior," and if that doesn't give you a hint regarding the humor that follows, then not much will.
If you like good literature, you'll love this book. If you like psychology, you'll love this book. If you want to seem pretentious, you need this book. Mostly, however, this is a book for people who love words. Burton may have seemed like a raving madman to some, but he was a man obsessed with a love for the English language...and it shows.
The Anatomy of Melancholy wasn't meant to be read from the first page to the last; I have never met anyone who did that and one would have to be more than a little mad to even try. Just pick up the book. Open it to any page. You may find lists, digressions, bits of 17th century prose, quotes, much Latin.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A rhapsody of rags." June 28 2001
By tepi
Format:Paperback
Don't be misled by the title of this book, nor by what others may have told you about it. In the first place, it isn't so much a book about 'Melancholy' (or abnormal psychology, or depression, or whatever) as a book about Burton himself and, ultimately, about humankind. Secondly, it isn't so much a book for students of the history of English prose, as one for lovers of language who joy in the strong taste of English when it was at its most masculine and vigorous. Finally, it isn't so much a book for those interested in the renaissance, as for those interested in life.
Burton is not a writer for fops and milquetoasts. He was a crusty old devil who used to go down to the river to listen to the bargemen cursing so that he could keep in touch with the true tongue of his race. Sometimes I think he might have been better off as the swashbuckling Captain of a pirate ship. But somehow he ended up as a scholar, and instead of watching the ocean satisfyingly swallowing up his victims, he himself became an ocean of learning swallowing up whole libraries. His book, in consequence, although it may have begun as a mere 'medical treatise,' soon exploded beyond its bounds to become, in the words of one of his editors, "a grand literary entertainment, as well as a rich mine of miscellaneous learning."
Of his own book he has this to say : "... a rhapsody of rags gathered together from several dung-hills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled out, without art, invention, judgement, wit, learning, harsh, raw, rude, phantastical, absurd, insolent, indiscreet, ill-composed, indigested, vain, scurrile, idle, dull, and dry; I confess all..." But don't believe him, he's in one of his irascible moods and exaggerating. In fact it's a marvelous book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An antiquarian's delight May 22 2001
Format:Paperback
OK. This for all of you autodidacts who love poring over your unabridged editions of the OED in search of abstruse verbal arcana and the history of obsolete verbiage (Ahem, I include myself in your number, of course.). This is one aspect of this Gargantuan tome, and the most delightful one. The other aspect is rather more nebulous: What exactly is this book about, and why was it penned? The obvious answer to the first part of the query is "melancholy." But melancholy, as here laid forth, is a seemingly ubiquitous and all-encompassing malady, as it were. "For indeed who is not a fool, melancholy, mad?" And who knows exactly why it was penned? So little is known of Burton and the incidents of his life: Save, of course, that he was well-acquainted with the unfelicitous side of things. - There is a sweetness in his accounting of it though, that is oddly reminiscent of the subaqueous tones of Debussy. One is not surprised either to find that Keats was one of Burton's readers.-The same dulcet sadness lures us into a kind of bittersweet repose, as in the opening lines of the poet's "Ode To A Nightingale."-Burton had a calling and this book was his answer to it.- All arguments in re the whys and wherefores are really for naught.- He had a calling and his answer remains a unique monument in Western literature, to be treasured and pored over again and again by all of us logophiles and solitary scholars...And anyone else, by the way.
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By RX
Format:Paperback
This book is quite interesting because it holds within its many pages a teaching that is deeper than what it may seem. There is a deep psychological teaching that mixes itself with high spiritual principles, esoteric Christian Gnosticism in its raw form, and countless viels that keep such things hidden from the eyes of the average literary scholar... Why would Burton write in such a way? The same reason Dante did...
But what is it that Burton is trying to show us, with his quotes from the Alchemical Master Galen and Latin stanzas?
Why must we understand the "Anatomy of Meloncholy"? The anatomy of our own suffering and the suffering of the world...
The Master M refers to Burton in his books of Occult Mysticism.
For us, as common "modern westerners", to understand such esoteric psychology-and not have to learn Latin, Tibetan, Sanskrit or Chinese, we must study the books of SAMAEL AUN WEOR. He writes in such a way as to unveil those truly hidden mysteries: "Know thyself and thy shall Know the universe and all its Gods".
Find the book of "Revolutionary Psychology" or "The Perfect Matrimony" by the said author. These books are amazing supplements to books like Burton's. These books give the western student a strong foundation in the psychological aspect of Occultism. SAMAEL AUN WEOR's books can be a bit difficult (to find), as they are continuously being translated from the original language (Spanish). Yet they can be bought from any Gnostic Institute ([...]
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