Acedia
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For Envye blindeth the herte of a man, and Ire troubleth a man; and Accidie maketh him hevy, thoghtful, and wrawe.
- The Parson's Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer

Basic Information

Acedia, (also accedie or accidie) is an ancient greek word for an emotion that most of us have rarely felt prior to 2020. It was a big deal to the greeks, filling their versions of the seven deadly sins, but was basically replaced by sloth in the English versions. In the old versions, Acedia was the final sin or temptation one had to conquer, the one that appeared to fill the void left when all the others had been curtailed (or conquered).

Acedia is indeed a little like sloth, but also a little like boredom or listlessness, a little like melancholy or ennui, a little like anxiety, a little like clinical depression, and a lot like a frustration you can't do anything useful to alleviate. It is the emotion of a caged tiger, or a prisoner in solitary confinement, or a castaway stranded on a remote island. It's also the emotion experienced by a monk who has removed all other temptation from their life and is left not knowing what to do with themselves. Acedia is the emotion that preoccupies your thoughts with an overwhelming awareness of the restrictions placed upon your activity. It's what makes you pace the walls of your prison cell. It's what prevents you from just relaxing and reading a book to unwind and enjoy your time. It's what drives you to compulsively check your social media and news feed all day long, even when you know they won't bring you satisfaction and there's other things you really ought to be working on instead. It can lead you to procrastinate, but exclusively wastes your time on things that bring you no joy. It is an intensely hollow and isolating experience.

Acedia was believed to have physical symptoms or manifestations as well as being an emotion. It could cause pain in the limbs and joints, weakness in the knees in particular, and could make you run a fever. So you could argue that it was a disease instead of a sin, but if so it was probably caused by an imbalance of the four humours given the medical philosophy of the era.

Sources

Game and Story Use

  • In the year 2020, acedia has become a worldwide phenomenon, thanks to the lockdown from a raging pandemic.
    • Does this apply a rearrangement of the situation in hell? Perhaps the demon of acedia has risen to power and prominence. Maybe someone should go check the seven seals for any signs of leakage.
      • Much like in Neil Gaiman's Sandman, the Endless known as Delight transforming into Delirium due to the changing nature of humanity, Sloth (who replaced Acedia in canon) may have lost their position again. At least the other six seem pretty stable…
    • Perhaps some great work of magic has empowered a mythago or egregore of acedia to reach out and envelope the world. The PCs need to break the spell to bring joy back to humanity.
    • Given the greek origin of the word, it would be appropriate to riff on greek myth, such as pandora's box or prometheus. Something awful has transformed the world, and must be set aright by a great hero. If you were telling a big sweeping epic modelled off Homer's Oddyssey, 2020 might be the time spent on Circe's island.
    • On the other hand, you could go Norse. This may be a sign of ragnarok! Helheim was a place where some dead souls (most notably Baldr) were confined, but not tortured nor damned. Perhaps this world-wide acedia is a psychological/metaphorical Fimbulvinter, the long dark winter of the soul that heralds the end of the world as we know it and the death of the gods.
    • Most likely, this will lift once a reliable safe vaccine is available and we can go back to face-to-face meetings and hugging old friends. Perhaps a deus ex machina or sympathetic magic will cause a vaccine to be discovered on the same in-game day as when the players solve your plotline or puzzle.
  • In a normal year, acedia is experienced by a much smaller subset of the population, usually just those struggling with depression or captivity (or maybe in a really strict monastery). So a single character (or small group of characters) battling with this outside of such situations could be a symptom of enchantment or curse or possession.
    • The archaic greek name would fit right at home in a spellbook or incantation, so either the cause or the cure could well be magic.
  • Could be used as a way to differentiate characterization. Example: Two prisoners share a cell. One remains productive and focused, using the time to read and improve themselves. The other is overcome with acedia, and spends the years agitated and caught up in the hopelessness of their confinement. Same punishment levelled on each, but the reactions are polar opposites.
  • The succession by Sloth of Acedia makes sense - the Greeks who worried about such things were slave owners and spent a lot of time sat about waiting for something to do (does that sound familiar to anyone?) whilst the middle ages were a time of labour shortage and free time was a precious resource for pretty much everyone: suddenly not pulling your weight becomes a much bigger deal. Of course once sloth becomes compulsory, acedia would seem to take precedence again.
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