What Was Hysteria in Ancient Greece?

Hysteria, a condition that was once linked to the uterus, was believed to only affect women in ancient Greece. This belief led to many misconceptions about the illness and how it should be treated. In this article, we will take a closer look at what hysteria was in ancient Greece and how it was perceived.

What is Hysteria?

Hysteria is a condition that has been recognized for centuries and was first described in ancient Greece. The word itself comes from the Greek word “hystera” which means uterus. In ancient times, hysteria was believed to be a disorder that affected only women and was caused by the movement of the uterus.

Symptoms of Hysteria

The symptoms of hysteria varied widely and included physical symptoms such as convulsions, paralysis, and muscle spasms. Women with hysteria were also known to experience emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and irritability.

The Belief Behind Hysteria

The belief behind hysteria in ancient Greece was that it was caused by the movement of the uterus within a woman’s body. It was believed that if the uterus moved from its original position within the body, it could cause various physical and emotional symptoms.

This belief led to some outrageous treatments aimed at curing hysteria. For example, one treatment involved placing sweet-smelling substances near a woman’s genitals in order to encourage the uterus back into its correct position.

The Evolution of Hysteria

Over time, the understanding of hysteria evolved. In the 19th century, French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot conducted research on hysterical patients and found that their symptoms were not caused by any physical movement of the uterus but rather by psychological factors.

This research helped change perceptions about hysteria and paved the way for new treatments such as psychotherapy.


In conclusion, hysteria in ancient Greece was a condition that was believed to affect only women and was thought to be caused by the movement of the uterus. While this belief led to some outrageous treatments, the understanding of hysteria evolved over time, and it is now recognized as a psychological rather than a physical condition.