Suicide in classical mythology: cues for prevention

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2005 May;111(5):384-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2004.00488.x.


Objective: To compare well established antecedents and correlates of completed suicide with the motives and the mechanics reported in Greek mythology.

Method: A well-known collection of Greek myths, the Book of fables by Hyginus, was explored to investigate the mechanics driving an individual to imagine, design and carry out a suicide attempt.

Results: Females outnumber males in the mythographer's list, their favourite methods to die being drowning, hanging, self-burning and throwing themselves down from on high. Some kind of familial recurrence of suicide was accounted for, and a large percentage of these suicides was connected to incest. Shame, sense of guilt and grief for the death of a loved one are the most frequently reported psychological correlates of the act, whereas defeat, failure or a catastrophic change in living conditions and, among females, an unfortunate love affair figure as the main antecedents of suicide.

Conclusion: Negative life events and emotional reactions to the severing of social ties frequently occur as antecedents of suicide in Greek mythology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mythology*
  • Suicide / prevention & control*
  • Suicide / psychology*