Boredom is a modern notion: if our ancestors suffered from it, they didn’t call it boredom.
The verb ‘to bore’ was first used in the late 18th century, while the noun ‘boredom’ dates only from the mid-19th century. By then, it was often seen as an illness: in Bleak House, Charles Dickens refers to it as a “chronic malady”. The literary critic Patricia Meyer Spacks traces a shift from 18th-century notions of boredom, which saw it as an individual’s personal responsibility or moral failing, to more modern notions which situated the sources of boredom outside the self. Spacks argues that this “reflects a state of affairs in which the individual is assigned ever more importance and ever less power”.