In and Out of the Mind

In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self

Princeton University Press, pb £10.95, ISBN 0-691-03766-3 Buy ‘In and Out of the Mind’ at order from a UK bookshop, or you can buy it from Amazon America here


This wide-ranging work is addressed both to Greek scholars and the general reader. Greek words are transliterated and translated, and there is no jargon. It explores Greek conceptions of human innerness, and how Greek tragedy shaped European notions of mind and self.

Arguing that Greek poetic language connects images of consciousness, even male consciousness, with the darkness attributed both to the underworld and to women, Ruth Padel analyses tragedy’s biological and demonological metephors for what is inside us. These images are still part of our culture today, but as they took shape in Greek they reveal attitudes which its contemporary audiences held towards their own bodies and emotions which are remarkably alien to modern readers. Ruth Padel relates a kaleidoscope of background details to the texture of Greek life which are equally alien to us (entrail divination, saucers of milk for the snakes that infest your roof) to the whole Greek understanding of mind. Central to her discussion is tragedy’s s great question: why – and how – do human beings suffer?


“A subtle, haunting book about the mind and emotions in the plays of the Greek tragedians. Unfamiliar connections and perspectives make it important for professionals, and the vivid portrayal of an intense and exotic mental world will appeal to the serious general reader.” – New York Review of Books

“A book with guts: fascinating, readable.” The Times

“A rich and brilliant study of fifth-century Athenian understanding of consciousness. Her skill as a writer and a gift for illuminating analogy make these foreign patterns of thought compellingly vivid. The book’s brilliance lies in its detailed illumination of the way Greeks thought about themselves and about gods.” Times Literary Supplement

“An exquisitely written word-painting gruesomely detailing the classical Athenian male’s sense of inner self and outer world.”
Times Higher Educational Supplement

“This extraordinary book deserves to be read by all hellenists, professional and amateur. She illuminates the relations between the hidden and the visible mental and emotional reaches of Greek tragic humanity and divinity. This book is written with consummate skill.” The Key Reporter, Phi Beta Kappa

“A penetrating study of motivation as the Greeks conceived it, and of the wonderful literature that immortalized their strange ideas.” Roger Scruton, Times Literary Supplement Books of the Year

“An enormously wide-ranging and illuminating study of the Greeks’ inner world… Anyone concerned with the study of emotion, and with gendered images of mind in particular, would do well to turn to Ruth Padel’s invaluable study of these Western European prototypes.” Gender and History

“Padel is very sensitive to the possibilities and associations of language… The richness and vigor of her book can only be poorly suggested. This is a very personal work, and a pleasure to read. It should be read by anyone with an interest in the Greek world.” Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“A scholarly, human and above all extraordinarily readable book, with a poet’s precise and surprising phrasing.” Oxford Today

“Widely recognized as an original and significant contribution to the study of Greek tragic psychology, In and Out of the Mind places tragic models of mind and selfhood in the context of Greek discourse about the relationship between the inner and the outer. A much noted feature of her work is the perceptive reading of the conceptual significance of lyric images and grammatical forms. The distinctive and engaging character of her books derives especially from the combination of sensitive interpretation of poetic discourse with her own direct, perceptive and sometimes amusing commentary on her own procedure.” Apeiron

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