There is a television series of American network CBS some success called “The Mentalist” which has some success. The protagonist, recognizes himself as “mentalist”, working with the police to solve all kinds of cases and to identify those guilty of crimes using his insight, his mental agility and analysis and his great capacity for observation human behavior, which react in certain ways to certain stimuli. The mind and its power is the only instrument that is served. Sometimes he is not very orthodox and law-abiding when using certain methods, but the result is always the identification and punishment of criminals.

Reading Lucian of Samosata, repeatedly discussed in this blog, I find a fact or anecdote in which a doctor, also using his clairvoyance and his powers of observation of the behavior of men, discovers  the nature of the serious illness of a boy, the son of the king, and he is able to solve it.

The story, well known in antiquity (also it is narrated by Plutarch, Appian, Valerius Maximus and several other appointments), has subsequently enjoyed great success as a reason for all the arts: literature, painting, music, etc. as I will discuss below.

Although these are not two really like cases, reading Lucian has reminded me to that series because the only tool that the physician uses is his mind and reasoning ability and he also creates the appropriate conditions to resolve the issue positively.

It will be appropriate to read directly Lucian's dialogue in which he tells it. It's entitled "On the Syrian Goddess", 17, which describes the temples and religious cults of his country, Syria.

They affirm  that the temple as it exists now is not that which was built originally: the primitive temple fell to pieces in the course of time: the present one they say was the work of Stratonice, the wife of the king of the Assyrians. This I take to be the Stratonice of whom her stepson was enamoured, and the skill of a doctor detected the intrigue: for the lover, overpowered by the malady of his passion, bewildered by the thought of his shameful caprice, lay sick in silence. He lay sick, and though no ache was in any limb, yet his colour was gone, and his frame was growing frailer day by day. The doctor, seeing that he was suffering from no definite disease, perceived that his malady was none other than love. Many are the symptoms of secret love: languor of vision, change in the voice and complexion, and frequent tears. The doctor, aware of this, acted as follows: he laid his hand on the heart of the young man, and summoned all the domestics in the household. The patient remained tranquil and unmoved on the entrance of the rest, but when his stepmother carne in he grew pale and fell to sweating and trembling, and his heart beat violently. These symptoms betrayed his passion to the doctor.

The doctor proceeded to adopt the following cure: Summoning the young man's father, who was racked by anxiety, he explained to him that the young man's malady was no normal malady, but a wrongful action: "he has no painful symptoms; he is possessed by love and madness. He longs to possess what he will never obtain; he loves my wife, whom I will never give up." This was the trick of the wise physician. The father straightway begged the doctor by his prudence and professional skill not to let his son perish. "His malady depended not on his will; it was involuntary. Pray then do not you let your jealousy bring grief on the whole realm, and do not, dear doctor, draw unpopularity on your profession." Such was the unwitting father's request. The doctor replied: "Your request is scandalous. You would deprive me of my wife and outrage the honour of a medical man. I put it to you, what would be your conduct, since you are deprecating mine, if your wife were the object of his guilty love?" He replied that he would not spare his own wife nor would he begrudge his son his life, even though that son were enamoured of his own stepmother: losing one's wife was a less misfortune than losing one's son. The doctor on hearing this said: "Why then offer me these entreaties? In good truth, your wife is the object of his love. What I said to you was all a made-up story." The father followed this advice, and handed over his wife and his kingdom to his son, and he himself departed into the region of Babylonia and founded a city on the Euphrates which bore his name: and there he died. Thus it was that our wise doctor detected and cured the malady. (Translated by Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, 1913)

Although Lucian only gives us the name of Stratonice, most authors who have the same history tell us that the queen was the daughter of Demeter Polorcetes, the king was Seleucus I Nicator, the boy was Antiochus I Soter (324-261) and the doctor was the famous Erasistratus.

The similarity with the protagonist of the television series  may seem scarce some kind reader. It is true that in the first part, in which the doctor finds cause when he perceives the altered the pulse of the boy, rather it looks like a human "truth machine"  reflecting on a graph physical alterations of people in the presence of certain stimuli. I look more like the television appearance in the sharpness with which the doctor places the mess or white lie to find the solution.

Plutarch tells it also on Life of Demetrius, 38

While Demetrius was enjoying a good fortune so illustrious as this, he had tidings concerning his children and his mother, namely, that they had been set free, and that Ptolemy had given them gifts and honours besides; he had tidings also concerning his daughter who was wedded to Seleucus, namely, that she was now the wife of Antiochus the son of Seleucus, and had the title of Queen of Upper Asia.  For it came to pass, as it would seem, that Antiochus fell in love with Stratonicé, who was young, and was already mother of a little boy by Seleucus. Antiochus was distressed, and resorted to many means of fighting down his passion, but at last, condemning himself for his inordinate desires, for his incurable malady, and for the subjugation of his reason, he determined to seek a way of escape from life, and to destroy himself gradually by neglecting his person and abstaining from food, under pretence of having some disease.  But Erasistratus, his physician, perceived quite easily that he was in love, and wishing to discover who was the object of his passion (a matter not so easy to decide), he would spend day after day in the young man's chamber, and if any of the beauties of the court came in, male or female, he would study the countenance of Antiochus, and watch those parts and movements of his person which nature has made to sympathize most with the inclinations of the soul.  Accordingly, when any one else came in, Antiochus showed no change; but whenever Stratonicé came to see him, as she often did, either alone, or with Seleucus, lo, those tell-tale signs of which Sappho sings were all there in him,—stammering speech, fiery flushes, darkened vision, sudden sweats, irregular palpitations of the heart, and finally, as his soul was taken by storm, helplessness, stupor, and pallor.  And besides all this, Erasistratus reasoned further that in all probability the king's son, had he loved any other woman, would not have persisted to the death in refusing to speak about it. He thought it a difficult matter to explain the case fully to Seleucus, but nevertheless, relying on the father's kindly feelings towards his son, he took the risk one day, and told him that love was the young man's trouble, a love that could neither be satisfied nor cured.  The king was amazed, and asked why his son's love could not be satisfied. ‘Because, indeed,’ said Erasistratus, ‘he is in love with my wife.’ ‘Then canst thou not, O Erasistratus,’ said Seleucus, ‘since thou art my son's friend, give him thy wife in addition to thy friendship, especially when thou seest that he is the only anchor of our storm-tossed house?’ ‘Thou art his father,’ said Erasistratus, ‘and yet thou wouldst not have done so if Antiochus had set his affections on Stratonicé.’  ‘My friend,’ said Seleucus, ‘would that someone in heaven or on earth might speedily convert and turn his passion in this direction; since I would gladly let my kingdom also go, if I might keep Antiochus.’ So spake Seleucus with deep emotion and many tears, whereupon Erasistratus clasped him by the hand and told him he had no need of Erasistratus; for as father, husband, and king, he was himself at the same time the best physician also for his household.  Consequently Seleucus called an assembly of the entire people and declared it to be his wish and purpose to make Antiochus king of all Upper Asia, and Stratonicé his queen, the two being husband and wife; he also declared it to be his opinion that his son, accustomed as he was to be submissive and obedient in all things, would not oppose his father in this marriage;  and that if his wife were reluctant to take this extraordinary step, he called upon his friends to teach and persuade her to regard as just and honourable whatever seemed good to the king and conducive to the general welfare. On this wise, then, we are told, Antiochus and Stratonicé became husband and wife.(English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1920.)

Note: the reference to Sappho is explained in this blog in

The version of Appian is included at the end of this article if a curious reader wanted to know. It's basically the same story, with some considerations which explain  us the fact of the abdication of the king from a political standpoint. Reading it now could be repetitive.

Also I reproduce at the end of this article the version of Valerius Maximus, which uses the story as an example of parental love.

Otherwise, citations and references in the ancient world are numerous. So Lucian himself refers to it twice more in Icaromenippus 15; The Medical Galen (130-200 / 216)  refers to it in XIV 626, 631 <633>, XVIII B 40: 18; Julian Misopogon 60-64; in Souda Encyclopedia under the name Erasistratos (Ἐρασίστρατος)

In the ancient world there are references to similar stories. In the Life of Hippocrates, by Soranus of Ephesus, a story involving the physician Hippocrates referred to Perdical, son of Alexander I of Macedon, in love with Fila, the concubine of his father's is narrated.

There is an anonymous poem of 290 hexameters, the V century, called Aegritudo Perdicae, Perdicas disease, which some attribute to Dracontius, where the young Perdicas is in incestuous love for his mother and announced his decision to commit suicide.

Aristaenetus (Greek author of century V-VI) tells us in one of his Letters of Love (I 13) much like a story, practically the same, referring now to a concubine with no royal name and other characters.  The summary of the letter, which at another time I also will discuss as an example of parental love, reads:

A son wished his father's concubine. A doctor diagnosed her love with the help of luck rather than science, and with a good plan he convinces the father to give to his son the concubine.

Some readers may wonder if this story is true or pure literary fiction or folktale story. Of course everything recounted plausible, but neither have any objective evidence to show its historicity. Doubt is reasonable in view of the characteristics of ancient history, often closer to the scientific literature and proven history.

But the existence of other similar "stories" in the ancient world, as we have seen, strengthens the suspicion that not "true story". In any case it seems reasonable to conclude that, like so many things narrated by ancient historians, it also moves on the border between history and fiction.

This story, then, was very successful in antiquity and later. It appears, for example, in the Middle Ages in Gesta Romanorum, 40 .

Boccaccio (1313-1375) includes it in his Decameron, II, 8. Now he is the son of a quaterback of king of England who sick love with the daughter of the Count of Antwerp, whom her parents had collected as beggar, ignoring their true origin. The actors are different, the story is the same.

Petrarca (1304-1374)) includes it also in his poem, The Triumph of Love, Trionfo d'Amore II, 109 ff:

He said: "I am Seleucus, and this is
my son Antiochus, who warred with you
but right avails not against greater strength.
   And she who is with us was first my wife
and then was his: for lest he die of love
to him I gave her, as in our land I might.
   Stratonica she is named; and as thou see'st
we are not divided: ….

disse: « Io Seleuco son, questi è Antïoco
mio figlio, che gran guerra ebbe con voi;
ma ragion contra forza non ha loco.    
Questa, mia in prima, sua donna fu poi,
ché per scamparlo d’amorosa morte
gliel diedi, e ’l don fu lecito tra noi.   
Stratonica è ’l suo nome, e nostra sorte,
come vedi, indivisa;

and the poem continues…

With these two Italians its presence and influence in modern literature is assured. It is the plot of a novel by Leonardo Bruni (1369-1444), a play by Camoens (circa 1543); of a novel by Matteo Bandello; William Painter (1540 – 1594?) In his Palace of Pleasure (1566); a novel by Luca Assarino (1635); Brosse (1645) by changing the incident; now is the girl who is in love with the son of the king; what was imitated by Corneille. Philippe Quinault (1657) or Farmian Durosoy Barnabé (1786) had led it to the theater.

In Spain he is important  Agustín Moreto and Cavana (1645)who in his work Antiochus and Seleucus paints psychological conflicts of the characters that move between his filial duty and her erotic self-interest. This topic  then appears in The Maidens' Consent of Leandro Fernández de Moratino and in Pepita Jiménez  by Juan Valera.

We can have an idea of extension of history because it  also is a ballad or song that was sung to the tune of the vihuela. That was included as such in the latest edition of work of Esteban Daza entitled "Music book on figures for vihuela, entitled the Parnasso", published in Valladolid in 1576.

In addition to the above ballad it is also important the presence in music, especially among the operas of Cavalli 1658, Legrenzi, 1681, Hasse, 1721; also musicians, Christoph Graupner (1708), Honoré Langle (1786) and Dmitry Bortniansky (1787), among others, wrote operas about the complicated love of  Estratonice and Antiochus, in which the doctor Erasístratus plays a fundamental role. Although the most famous opera certainly is the Stratonice that Etienne-Nicolas Mehul / Hoffmann released in 1792.

Equally powerful and repetitive it is its presence in the paint. Since the fifteenth century we have a drawer or chest or cassone of School of Gozzoli. Pietro da Cortona introduced in the Sala di Venere the Palazzo Pitti (1641-1642) the child's bed scene in which there is an inscription that says: "The son loves while it remains silent, the doctor is witty, the father indulgent" "amans et Filius silens. Vafer medicus. Pater indulgens ". Theodoor van Thulden had written in a similar table  "Prudentia Relevant amorem", "they help love with their prudence"

The Flemish painter Lairesse has two tables on this occasion; Winckelmann commented one of them  enthusiastically in Sendschreiben über die Gedanken von der Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei un Bildhauerkunst,, 1756, p. 76-80. Perhaps the mention by Goethe in "Years Learning Wilheml Meister" is also  referred to one of these paintings.

Many other artists continue this tradition, as Felice Ficherelli (1603-1660), Steen (ca. 1670), Lairesse four times (ca. 1673), Antonio Bellucci (1654-1726), Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) Ricci (c.1680), Celesti (late XVII), Pittoni (ca. 1732), Johann Eleazar Schenau (1737-1806), Gaspare Diziani (1689-1767), Pompeo Batoni (1746), West (1772) Jacques-Antoine Vallin (1760-1831) and Alexandre-Charles Guillemot (1786-1831) David (1774), Barry (1774), J.Zick, (ca.1795), Girodet (ca. 1795), Guillenet (1808) Ingres (1840). Even today this reason remains prodeuctive.

 I reproduce this painting of the very famous David, the painter of the French Revolution.

Antiochus and Stratonice

Appian, Syrian Wars XI, 59-61

[59] Seleucus, while still living, appointed his son, Antiochus, king of upper Asia in place of himself. If this seems noble and kingly on his part, even nobler and wiser was his behavior in reference to his son's falling in love, and his self-restraint in suffering; for Antiochus was in love with Stratonice, the wife of Seleucus, his own stepmother, who had already borne a child to Seleucus. Recognizing the wickedness of this passion, Antiochus did nothing wrong, nor did he show his feelings, but he fell sick, took to his bed, and longed for death. Nor could the celebrated physician, Erasistratus, who was serving Seleucus at a very high salary, form any diagnosis of his malady. At length, observing that his body was free from all the symptoms of disease, he conjectured that this was some condition of the mind, through which the body is often strengthened or weakened by sympathy. Grief, anger, and other passions disclose themselves; love only is concealed by the modest. As Antiochus would confess nothing when the physician asked him in confidence, he took a seat by his side and watched the changes of his body to see how he was affected by each person who entered his room. He found that when others came the patient was all the time weakening and wasting away at a uniform pace, but when Stratonice came to visit him his mind was greatly agitated by the struggles of modesty and conscience, and he remained silent. But his body in spite of himself became more vigorous and lively, and when she went away he became weaker again. So the physician told Seleucus that his son had an incurable disease. The king was overwhelmed with grief and cried aloud. Then the physician added, "His disease is love, love for a woman, but a hopeless love."
[60] Seleucus was astonished that there could be any woman whom he, king of Asia, could not prevail upon to marry such a son as his, by entreaties, by gold, by gifts, by the whole of this great kingdom, the eventual inheritance of the sick prince, which the father would give to him even now, if he wished it, in order to save him. Desiring to learn only one thing more, he asked, "Who is this woman?" Erasistratus replied, "He is in love with my wife." "Well then, my good fellow," rejoined Seleucus, "since you are so bound to us by friendship and favors, and are a model of goodness and wisdom in matters of small moment, will you not save this princely young man for me, the son of your friend and king, unfortunate in love but virtuous, who has concealed his sinful passion and prefers to die rather than confess it? Do you so despise Antiochus? Do you despise his father also?" Then Erasistratus changed his tactics, and, as though he were giving him a knock-down argument, said, "You would not give Antiochus your wife if he were in love with her, although you are his father." Seleucus swore by all the gods of his royal house that he would willingly and cheerfully give her, and make himself an illustrious example of a kind and good father to a chaste son who controlled his passion and did not deserve such suffering. Much more he added of the same sort, and, finally, began to lament that he could not himself be the physician to his unhappy boy, but must needs depend on Erasistratus in this matter also.
[61] When Erasistratus saw that the king was in earnest and not hypocritical, he told the whole truth. He related how he had discovered the nature of the malady, and how he had detected the secret passion. Seleucus was overjoyed, but it was a difficult matter to persuade his son and not less so to persuade his wife; but he succeeded finally. Then he assembled his army, which was perhaps expecting something of the kind, and told them of his exploits and of the extent of his empire, showing that it surpassed that of any of the other successors of Alexander, and saying that as he was now growing old it was hard for him to govern it on account of its size. "I wish," he said, "to divide it, and so at the same time to provide for your safety in the future and give a part of it now to those who are dearest to me. It is fitting that all of you, who had advanced to such greatness of dominion and power under me since the time of Alexander, should coöperate with me in everything. The dearest to me, and well worthy to reign, are my grownup son and my wife. As they are young, I pray they may soon have children to be an ample guarantee to you of the permanency of the dynasty. I will join them in marriage in your presence and will send them to be sovereigns of the upper provinces now. And I charge you that none of the customs of the Persians and other nations is more worthy of observance than this one law, which is common to all of them, 'That what the king ordains is always right.'" When he had thus spoken the army shouted that he was the greatest king of all the successors of Alexander and the best father. Seleucus laid the same injunctions on Stratonice and his son, then joined them in marriage, and sent them to their kingdom, showing himself even stronger in this famous act than in his deeds of arms.
  (Translation  by Horace White)
Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, 5, 7 ext.

7. ext. 1. But to turn to things that are more pleasant to hear: Antiochus, the son of King Seleucus, fell madly in love with his stepmother, Stratonice. Realizing that he was burning with a wicked passion, he tried to hide this unnatural and traumatic love with a natural discretion. These conflicting feelings contained within the same flesh and bones, and the struggle between his extraordinary desire and his exceptional modesty, reduced his body to a skeleton. He himself was lying in bed, looking like a corpse; his friends were crying; his father was devastated with grief at the approaching death of his only son and was contemplating his future childlessness. The entire dwelling looked more like a funeral home than a palace.
But Leptines the mathematician (or, as some people say, Erasitratus the doctor) banisched this cloud of sorrow by his foresight. He was sitting beside Antiochus, and he noticed that whenever Stratonice entered, the young man would go red all over and his breathing would slow down again. So he observed the young man more closely and discovered the truth: when Stratonice was entering the room, and again when she was leaving, he surreptitiously held the young man’s arm, and from his pulse rate, which was quicker in the firs case and slower in the second, he discovered what illness the young man was suffering from. He revealed this to Seleucus at once. The king did not hesitate to hand over this wife, whom he loved very much, to his son. He wrote off the fact that the young man had fallen in love as a blow from fortune; but he attributed the fact that he had been prepared to repress this love, even to the point of death, to the young man’s modesty. Let us put before our minds this old king who loved his wife: it will soon become clear how many things and what difficult tihing the kindness of fatherly affection has overcome.
(Translation by Walker, Henry John) Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome. Hackett Publishing Company, In. 2004)


Ceterum ut ad iucundiora cognitu ueniamus, Seleuci regis filius Antiochus nouercae Stratonices infinito amore correptus, memor quam inprobis facibus arderet, impium pectoris uulnus pia dissimulatione contegebat. itaque diuersi adfectus isdem uisceribus ac medullis inclusi, summa cupiditas et maxima uerecundia, ad ultimam tabem corpus eius redegerunt. iacebat ipse in lectulo moribundo similis, lamentabantur necessarii, pater maerore prostratus de obitu unici filii deque sua miserrima orbitate cogitabat, totius domus funebris magis quam regius erat uultus. sed hanc tristitiae nubem Leptinis mathematici uel, ut quidam tradunt, Erasistrati medici prouidentia discussit: iuxta enim Antiochum sedens, ut eum ad introitum Stratonices rubore perfundi et spiritu increbrescere eaque egrediente palle<sce>re et ~ excitatiorem anhelitum subinde recuperare animaduertit, curiosiore obseruatione ad ipsam ueritatem penetrauit: intrante enim Stratonice et rursus abeunte brachium adulescentis dissimulanter adprehendendo modo uegetiore modo languidiore pulsu uenarum conperit cuius morbi aeger esset, protinusque id Seleuco exposuit. qui carissima sibi coniuge filio cedere non dubitauit, quod in amorem incidisset, fortunae acceptum referens, quod dissimulare eum ad mortem usque paratus esset, ipsius pudori inputans. subiciatur animis senex, rex, amans: iam patebit quam multa quamque difficilia paterni adfectus indulgentia supera<ue>rit.

A very old mentalist tests the love of a father

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