January 26, 2014

Shame and fear

In Aristotle's book of Problems, we find it written [fragment 243]: "Why is it that, despite the similarity between shame and fear, those who feel the former turn red, but those who feel the latter turn pale? It is because the blood of the ashamed is diffused from the heart to the other parts of the body, and so to the body's surface; the blood of the fearful, meanwhile, abandons the other parts of the body and gathers in the heart."

I was in the company of our own Calvisius Taurus at Athens when I read this, and I asked how much sense he thought it made. He said: "As an account of what happens when the blood is diffused or concentrated, it is accurate and true. But he has not said why these things happen. The question of cause is still open: why does fear concentrate the blood, and shame scatter it? After all, shame is a sub-category of fear, as the philosophers define it: 'Shame is the fear of deserved blame.' "

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 19.6