The how and why of our article “Theophrastos’s Obtuse Man: the oldest phenomenological description of Neurodevelopmental Disorder in adult”

By Pehlivanidis Artemios and Papanikolaou Katerina

In our paper we support that the Theophrastos’s character “The Obtuse Man” is the earliest description of the co-occurrence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and social communication disorder (SCD). The co-existence of these two disorders in a character in such a different historical context reinforces their validity as diagnostic constructs and provides an example of the co-occurrence of two neurodevelopmental disorders (ND).

Theophrastos (381-278 B.C), was the first to adopt the term character for the description of the distinct inner psychological and moral features of an individual. In his classic book “Characters” in a simple style wording he analyses some of his contemporary individuals. Recently, Theophrastos’ descriptions of the Obtuse Man was compared to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5) ADHD symptoms and was considered as the oldest description compatible with the current conception of ADHD in adults (Victor et al, 2018). In our paper we suggest that five statements of this character may be attributed to another ND, described in DSM-5, the SCD.

Theophrastos’ text has been adopted all these years because it leads to the recognition of inappropriate social behavior. The Socratic moralistic approach of the 4rth century BC adopted by Theophrastos attribute minor psychiatric disorders or traits to the lack of rational control over appetites and behavior. Increasing self-awareness was then the only help offered to persons presenting with the portraits that the characters describe. Modern psychiatry though, influenced by the Hippocratic approach, allows individuals to seek an adequate treatment. Neurodevelopmental Disorders such as ADHD and SCD can be appropriately and effectively treated. The treatment of these disorders in affected individuals not only leads to a better clinical care but also may diminish stigmatization.

The study of the historical roots of ND may help us to better understand modern concepts, even in the scientific community, that “do not believe in ADHD”.

Theophrastus’s “Anaisthetos” (“The Obtuse Man”): the oldest “phenomenological” description of neurodevelopmental disorders in an adult