Anger and its control in Graeco-Roman and modern psychology

Psychiatry. 1979 Nov;42(4):320-37. doi: 10.1080/00332747.1979.11024036.


Modern psychologists have studied the phenomena of anger and hostility with diverse methodologies and from a variety of theoretical orientations. The close relationships between anger and aggression, psychosomatic disorder and personal unhappiness, make the understanding and control of anger an important individual and social goal. For all of its sophistication and accomplishment, however, most of the modern research demonstrates, to its disadvantage, a lack of historical perspective with respect to the analysis and treatment of anger, whether normal or pathological. This attitude has deprived psychology of a rich source of empirical observations, intriguing, testable hypotheses, and ingenious techniques of treatment. Of the literature that has been neglected, the analyses of the emotion of anger in the writings of Greek and Roman moral philosophers, particularly Aristotle (4th century B.C.), Seneca (1st century A.D.) and Plutarch (early 2nd century A.D.) are of particular interest. Although modern analyses and methods of treatment are in some ways more refined and more quantitatively precise, and are often subjected to validation and modification by empirical-experimental tests, scientific psychology has, to date, contributed relatively little to the understanding and control of anger that is novel except for research on its physiological dimensions. We can still benefit from the insight, prescriptions and procedures of the classicists, who in some respects offer more powerful methods of control than the most recently published works. Naturally, the modern psychotherapist or behavior therapist can and must go beyond the ancients, as is inherent in all scientific and intellectual progress, but there are no scientific or rational grounds for ignoring them as has been done for 75 years.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anger*
  • Greece, Ancient
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Psychology / history*
  • Rome