The Anatomy of Melancholy "Crocodile's Tears"

Robert Burton

"Crocodile's Tears"

Context: At about the middle of the introduction to a remarkable book, the author, the Reverend Robert Burton, as "Democritus, Junior," ponders on what his fifth century namesake Democritus would say about behavior in the contemporary world. Burton lists the way man "turns himself into all shades like a chameleon, or as Proteus transforms himself into all that is monstruous." He fawns like a spaniel, rages like a lion, barks like a cur, fights like a tiger, stings like a serpent, grins like a tiger, and weeps like a crocodile. The idea that anything as big and thick-skinned as a crocodile could be so moved by tender emotions as to shed tears from its tiny, deep-sunken eyes, is absurd. Chapman and Ben Jonson in their 1605 Eastward Ho!, and many others who came after Burton, used this phrase. Burton himself used the figure again in Partition III of his anatomical study of morbid psychology. Continuing with a consideration of the causes of Heroical Love, which flourishes most during the conjunction of certain planets, he likewise blames the climate of some places, as well as rich diet and idleness. As more direct causes of the growth of love, he quotes Lucian about the effect of the sight of beauty. Love can also be provoked by artificial stimulants, and increased by opportunity and importunity, including sweet sounds, kisses, dancing, and tears.

. . . When nothing else will serve, the last refuge is their tears. 'Twixt tears and sighs I write this (I take love to witness), saith Chelidonia to Philonius. Those burning torches are now turned to floods of tears. Aretine's Lucretia, when her sweetheart came to Town, wept in his bosom, that he might be persuaded those tears were shed for joy of his return. . . . To these crocodile's tears, they will add sobs, fiery sighs, and sorrowful countenance, pale color, leanness, and if you do but stir abroad, these fiends are ready to meet you at every turn, . . .