Developmental Disability: A Curse in the Ancient Era


A blessing for developmentally and intellectually disabled people in the world today is that most of the general population believe in keeping an open mind and their attitude towards disability guided by a tolerant and informed perspective. With the rise of technology, people are more aware than ever. Almost every country has organizations and laws in place that allow disabled people to lead respectful lives. A meaningful life was not always the case, and the harsh plight of disabled people only began to look up a few decades ago. It has taken centuries for people to change their attitude towards the disabled and to be a disabled person in the ancient era was perhaps the worst kind of curse.

The most ancient historical evidence of treatment of disabled people dates back to 7000 B.C and involved the application massages, baths and herbal treatments that attempted to cure developmental and intellectual disability. There are also evidences of “magic” being used in attempts to rid the person of demonic possession. Between 800 BC and 400 BC, however, the idea of treating people for their disability was for the most part abandoned. With little regard for human life, the cultures of the ancient era found it easier to simply kill anyone born with disabilities rather than try to care for or cure them. Ancient Greece and Roman cultures valued perfection and beauty over everything else. As a result, most tortuous malpractices towards developmentally disabled infants, children and adults were inflicted in these cultures.

Disabilities were not understood or tolerated and even the most revered ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle had commanded, “As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.” Aristotle’s recommendation led to perhaps one of the evilest practices towards the disabled- abandoning disabled infants and children in the cold and leaving them to die. It is hard to imagine the slow and painful deaths thousands of infant and children must have suffered. Infanticide was widely carried out in Ancient Greece for decades in light of Aristotle’s decree.

In ancient Rome, disabled people were referred to as “monstrum” and the birth of a disabled child was seen as an evil omen. The Romans were allowed the freedom to sell, injure or kill their disabled children and people with disabilities often ended up as beggars or in court as a source of amusement and entertainment.

Perhaps the first person to firmly state that developmental disabilities were not because of evil spirits but were a medical illness that could be cured was the great Greek healer, Hippocrates. Later, the Greek physician Sonarus opened the first hospital of its kind, dedicated to treating people with mental and developmental disabilities.

People’s attitude began changing slowly, but nothing changed it as surely as religion. The rise of Christianity, in particular, taught followers; LUKE 9:48 And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. (n.d.).

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