Geographical sites:

  • Athens (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #579885)
    Pleiades_icon Athenae theatre, plaza, cemetery, stoa, settlement, temple Geocontext: Athina/Athens
    Description: A major Greek city-state and the principal city of Attika.
  • Thebes (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #786017)
    Pleiades_icon Diospolis Magna/Thebai settlement, temple Geocontext: Karnak/Luxor
    Description: Diospolis Magna/Thebai was known in ancient Egypt as Waset, "City of the Sceptre". The site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.


Text #8617

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Vol. 1
[Thuc. 2.47--2.59. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Clarendon Press. 1900 pp. 135--142]

As soon as summer returned, the Peloponnesian army, comprising as before two-thirds of the force of each confederate state, under the command of the Lacedaemonian king Archidamus, the son of Zeuxidamus, invaded Attica, where they established themsel and ravaged the country. They had not been there many days when the plague broke out at Athens for the first time. A similar disorder is said to have previously smitten many places, particularly Lemnos, but there is no record of such a pestilence occurring elsewhere, or of so great a destruction of human life. For a while physicians, in ignorance of the nature of the disease, sought to apply remedies; but it was in vain, and they themselves were among the first victims, because they oftenest came into contact with it1. No human art was of any avail, and as to supplications in temples, enquiries of oracles, and the like, they were utterly useless, and at last men were overpowered by the calamity and gave them all up.

The disease is said to have begun south of Egypt in Aethiopia; thence it descended into Egypt and Libya, and after spreading over the greater part of the Persian empire, suddenly fell upon Athens. It first attacked the inhabitants of the Piraeus, and it was supposed that the Peloponnesians had poisoned the cisterns, no conduits having as yet been made there. It afterwards reached the upper city, and then the mortality became far greater. As to its probable origin or the causes which might or could have produced such a disturbance of nature, every man, whether a physician or not, will give his own opinion. But I shall describe its actual course, and the symptoms by which any one who knows them beforehand may recognise the disorder should it ever reappear. For I was myself attacked, and witnessed the sufferings of others.

The season was admitted to have been remarkably free from ordinary sickness; and if anybody was already ill of any other disease, it was absorbed in this. Many who were in perfect health, all in a moment, and without any apparent reason, were seized with violent heats in the head and with redness and inflammation of the eyes. Internally the throat and the tongue were quickly suffused with blood, and the breath became unnatural and fetid. There followed sneezing and hoarseness; in a short time the disorder, accompanied by a violent cough, reached the chest; then fastening lower down, it would move the stomach and bring on all the vomits of bile to which physicians have ever given names; and they were very distressing. An ineffectual retching producing violent convulsions attacked most of the sufferers; some as soon as the previous symptoms had abated, others not until long afterwards.28 The body externally was not so very hot to the touch, nor yet pale; it was of a livid colour inclining to red, and breaking out in pustules and ulcers. But the internal fever was intense; the sufferers could not bear to have on them even the finest linen garment; they insisted on being naked, and there was nothing which they longed for more eagerly than to throw themselves into cold water. And many of those who had no one to look after them actually plunged into the cisterns, for they were tormented by unceasing thirst, which was not in the least assuaged whether they drank little or much. They could not sleep; a restlessness which was intolerable never left them. While the disease was at its height the body, instead of wasting away, held out amid these sufferings in a marvellous manner, and either they died on the seventh or ninth day, not of weakness, for their strength was not exhausted, but of internal fever, which was the end of most; or, if they survived, then the disease descended into the bowels and there produced violent ulceration; severe diarrhoea at the same time set in, and at a later stage caused exhaustion, which finally with few exceptions carried them off. For the disorder which had originally settled in the head passed gradually through the whole body, and, if a person got over the worst, would often seize the extremities and leave its mark, attacking the privy parts and the fingers and the toes; and some escaped with the loss of these, some with the loss of their eyes. Some again had no sooner recovered than they were seized with a forgetfulness of all things and knew neither themselves nor their friends.

The general character of the malady no words can describe, and the fury with which it fastened upon each sufferer was too much for human nature to endure. There was one circumstance in particular which distinguished it from ordinary diseases. The birds and animals which feed on human flesh, although so many bodies were lying unburied, either never came near them, or died if they touched them. This was proved by a remarkable disappearance of the birds of prey, which were not to be seen either about the bodies or anywhere else; while in the case of the dogs the result was even more obvious, because they live with man.

Such was the general nature of the disease: I omit many strange peculiarities which characterised individual cases. None of the ordinary sicknesses attacked any one while it lasted, or, if they did, they ended in the plague. Some of the sufferers died from want of care, others equally who were receiving the greatest attention. No single remedy could be deemed a specific; for that which did good to one did harm to another. No constitution was of itself strong enough to resist or weak enough to escape the attacks; the disease carried off all alike and defied every mode of treatment. Most appalling was the despondency which seized upon any one who felt himself sickening; for he instantly abandoned his mind to despair and, instead of holding out, absolutely threw away his chance of life. Appalling too was the rapidity with which men caught the infection; dying like sheep if they attended on one another; and this was the principal cause of mortality. When they were afraid to visit one another, the sufferers died in their solitude, so that many houses were empty because there had been no one left to take care of the sick; or if they ventured they perished, especially those who aspired to heroism. For they went to see their friends without thought of themselves and were ashamed to leave them, at a time when the very relations of the dying were at last growing weary and ceased even to make lamentations, overwhelmed by the vastness of the calamity. But whatever instances there may have been of such devotion, more often the sick and the dying were tended by the pitying care of those who had recovered, because they knew the course of the disease and were themselves free from apprehension. For no one was ever attacked a second time, or not with a fatal result. All men congratulated them, and they themselves, in the excess of their joy at the moment, had an innocent fancy that they could not die of any other sickness.

The crowding of the people out of the country into the city aggravated the misery; and the newly-arrived suffered most. For, having no houses of their own, but inhabiting in the height of summer stifling huts, the mortality among them was dreadful, and they perished in wild disorder. The dead lay as they had died, one upon another, while others hardly alive wallowed in the streets and crawled about every fountain craving for water. The temples in which they lodged were full of the corpses of those who died in them; for the violence of the calamity was such that men, not knowing where to turn, grew reckless of all law, human and divine. The customs which had hitherto been observed at funerals were universally violated, and they buried their dead each one as best he could. Many, having no proper appliances, because the deaths in their household had been so numerous already, lost all shame in the burial of the dead. When one man had raised a funeral pile, others would come, and throwing on their dead first, set fire to it; or when some other corpse was already burning, before they could be stopped, would throw their own dead upon it and depart.

There were other and worse forms of lawlessness which the plague introduced at Athens. Men who had hitherto concealed what they took pleasure in, now grew bolder. For, seeing the sudden change,–how the rich died in a moment, and those who had nothing immediately inherited their property,–they reflected that life and riches were alike transitory, and they resolved to enjoy themselves while they could, and to think only of pleasure. Who would be willing to sacrifice himself to the law of honour when he knew not whether he would ever live to be held in honour? The pleasure of the moment and any sort of thing which conduced to it took the place both of honour and of expediency. No fear of Gods or law of man deterred a criminal. Those who saw all perishing alike, thought that the worship or neglect of the Gods made no difference. For offences against human law no punishment was to be feared; no one would live long enough to be called to account. Already a far heavier sentence had been passed and was hanging over a man’s head; before that fell, why should he not take a little pleasure?

Such was the grievous calamity which now afflicted the Athenians; within the walls their people were dying, and without, their country was being ravaged. In their troubles they naturally called to mind a verse which the elder men among them declared to have been current long ago:

“A Dorian war will come and a plague with it.”

There was a dispute about the precise expression; some saying that limos, a famine, and not loimos, a plague, was the original word. Nevertheless, as might have been expected, for men’s memories reflected their sufferings, the argument in favour of loimos prevailed at the time. But if ever in future years another Dorian war arises which happens to be accompanied by a famine, they will probably repeat the verse in the other form. The answer of the oracle to the Lacedaemonians when the God was asked ‘whether they should go to war or not,’ and he replied ‘that if they fought with all their might, they would conquer, and that he himself would take their part,’ was not forgotten by those who had heard of it, and they quite imagined that they were witnessing the fulfilment of his words. The disease certainly did set in immediately after the invasion of the Peloponnesians, and did not spread into Peloponnesus in any degree worth speaking of, while Athens felt its ravages most severely, and next to Athens the places which were most populous. Such was the history of the plague. […]

All the time during which the Peloponnesians remained in the country and the armament of the Athenians continued at sea the plague was raging both among the troops and in the city. The fear which it inspired was said to have induced the enemy to leave Attica sooner than they intended; for they heard from deserters that the disease was in the city, and likewise saw the burning of the dead. Still in this invasion the whole country was ravaged by them, and they remained about forty days, which was the longest stay they ever made.

In the same summer, Hagnon the son of Nicias, and Cleopompus the son of Cleinias, who were colleagues of Pericles in his military command, took the fleet which he had employed and sailed forthwith against the Thracian Chalcidians and against Potidaea, which still held out. On their arrival they brought engines up to the walls, and tried every means of taking the town. But they did not succeed; nor did the result by any means correspond to the magnitude of their armament; for thither too the plague came and made dreadful havoc among the Athenian troops. Even the soldiers who were previously there and had been in good health caught the infection from the forces under Hagnon. But the army of Phormio escaped; for he and his sixteen hundred troops had left Chalcidicè. And so Hagnon returned with his fleet to Athens, having lost by the plague out of four thousand hoplites a thousand and fifty men in about forty days2. But the original armament remained and prosecuted the siege.

After the second Peloponnesian invasion, now that that Attica had been once more ravaged, and the war and the plague together lay heavy upon the Athenians, a change came over their spirit. They blamed Pericles because he had persuaded them to go to war, declaring that he was the author of their troubles ; and they were anxious to come to terms with the Lacedaemonians. Accordingly envoys were despatched to Sparta, but they met with no success. And now, being completely at their wits’ end, they turned upon Pericles.

  1. Though Thucydides clearly stated that physicians were helpless against the plague, an ancient tradition records that there was one physician who could cure this epidemic. This doctor was Hippocrates. Pliny, Galen and Aetius described how he fought the epidemic by building a great fire, which corrected the unhealty atmosphere that cause the outbreak: Pinault J.D., How Hippocrates Cured the Plague, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Inc, Vol. 41, 1986, p.52-75 [nE]

  2. i.e. 26 percent. [nE]

Text #8618

Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History. Vol. 1
[Diod. 12.45. Translated by C. H. Oldfather. Harvard University Press. 1935. (12 Vols.) pp. 15--17]

The Lacedaemonians together with the Peloponnesians and their other allies invaded Attica for a second time. In their advance through the country they chopped down orchards and burned the farm-buildings, and they laid waste almost the entire land with the exception of the region known as the Tetrapolis. This area they spared because their ancestors had once dwelt there and had gone forth from it as their base on the occasion when they had defeated Eurystheus; for they considered it only fair that the benefactors of their ancestors should in turn receive from their descendants the corresponding benefactions. As for the Athenians, they could not venture to meet them in a pitched battle, and being confined as they were within the walls, found themselves involved in an emergency caused by a plague; for since a vast multitude of people of every description had streamed together into the city, there was good reason for their falling victim to diseases as they did, because of the cramped quarters, breathing air which had become polluted. Consequently, since they were unable to expel the enemy from their territory, they again dispatched many ships against the Peloponnesus, appointing Pericles general. He ravaged a large part of the territory bordering on the sea, plundered some cities, and brought it about that the Lacedaemonians withdrew from Attica.After this the Athenians, now that the trees of their countryside had been cut down and the plague was carrying off great numbers, were plunged into despondency and became angry with Pericles, considering him to have been responsible for their being at war. Consequently they removed him from the generalship, and on the strength of some petty grounds for accusation they imposed a fine upon him of eighty talents. After this they dispatched embassies to the Lacedaemonians and asked that the war be brought to an end; but when not a man paid any attention to them, they were forced to elect Pericles general again.

Text #8619

Lucretius. On the Nature of Things
[Bk. 6 Verse 1104 pp. 234--239]

Such a form of disease and a death-fraught miasm erst within the borders of Cecrops defiled the whole land with dead, and dispeopled the streets, drained the town of burghers. Rising first and starting from the inmost corners of Egypt, after traversing much air and many floating fields, the plague brooded at last over the whole people of Pandion ; and then they were handed over in troops to disease and death. First of all they would have the head seized with burning heat and both eyes blood-shot with a glare diffused over: the livid throat within would exude blood and the passage of the voice be clogged and choked with ulcers, and the mind’s interpreter the tongue drip with gore, quite enfeebled with sufferings, heavy in movement, rough to touch. Next when the force of disease passing down the throat had filled the breast and had streamed together even in the sad heart of the sufferers, then would all the barriers of life give way. The breath would pour out at the mouth a noisome stench, even as the stench of rotting carcasses thrown out unburied.

And then the powers of the entire mind, the whole body would sink utterly, now on the very threshold of death. And a bitter bitter despondency was the constant attendant on insufferable ills and complaining mingled with moaning. An ever-recurring hiccup often the night and day through, forcing on continual spasms in sinews and limbs, would break men quite, forwearying those forspent before. And yet in none could you perceive the skin on the sur- face of the body burn with any great heat, but the body would rather offer to the hand a lukewarm sensation and at the same time be red all over with ulcers burnt into it so to speak, as happens when the holy fire is spreading over the frame. The inward parts of the men however would burn to the very bones, a flame would burn within the stomach as within furnaces. Nothing was light and thin enough to apply to the relief of the body of any one ; ever wind and cold alone. Many would plunge their limbs burning with disease into the cool rivers, throwing their body naked into the water. Many tumbled headforemost deep down into the wells, meeting the water even with mouth wide-agape. Parching thirst with a craving not to be appeased, drenching their bodies, would make an abundant draught no better than the smallest drop. No respite was there of ill : their bodies would lie quite spent. The healing art would mutter low in voiceless fear, as again and again they rolled about their eye-balls wide open, burning with disease, never visited by sleep.

And many symptoms of death besides would then be given, the mind disordered in sorrow and fear, the clouded brow, the fierce delirious expression, the ears too troubled and filled with ringings, the breathing quick or else strangely loud and slow recurring, and the sweat glistening wet over the neck, the spittle in thin small flakes, tinged with a saffron-colour, salt, scarce forced up the rough throat by coughing. The tendons of the hands ceased not to contract, the limbs to shiver, a coldness to mount with slow sure pace from the feet upwards. Then at their very last moments they had nostrils pinched, the tip of the nose sharp, eyes deep-sunk, temples hollow, the skin cold and hard, on the grim mouth a grin, the brow tense and swollen ; and not long after their limbs would be stretched stiff in death : about the eighth day of bright sunlight or else on the ninth return of his lamp they would yield up life. And if any of them at that time had shunned the doom of death,yet in after time consumption of death would await him from noisome ulcers and the black discharge of the bowels, or else a quantity of purulent blood accompanied by headache would often pass out by the gorged nostrils : into these the whole strength and substance of the man would stream. Then too if any one had escaped the acrid discharge of noisome blood the disease would yet pass into his sinews and joints and onward even into the sexual organs of the body ; and some from excessive dread of the gates of death would live bereaved of these parts by the knife ; and some though without hands and feet would continue in life, and some would loose their eyes with such force had the fear of death attacked them. And some were seized with such forgetfulness that they did not know themselves. And though bodies lay in heaps above bodies unburied on the ground, yet would the race of birds and beasts either scour far away, to escape the acrid stench, or where any one had tasted, it drooped in near-following death. Though hardly at all in those days would any bird appear, or the sullen breeds of wild-beasts quit the forests. Many would droop with disease and die : above all faithful dogs would lie stretched in all the streets and , yield up breath with a struggle ; for the power of disease would wrench life from their frame.

Funerals lonely, unattended, would be hurried on with emulous haste. And no sure and universal method of cure was found ; for that which had given to one man the power to inhale the vital air and to gaze on the quarters of heaven, would be destruction to others and would bring on death. But in such times this was what was deplorable and above all eminently heart-rending : when a man saw himself enmeshed by the disease, as though he were doomed to death, losing all spirit he would lie; with sorrow-stricken heart, and with his thoughts turned on death would surrender his life then and there. Ay for at no time did they cease to catch from one another the infection of the devouring plague, like to woolly flocks and homed herds. And this above all heaped death on death : whenever any refused to attend their own sick, killing neglect soon after would punish them for their too great love of life and fear of death by a foul and evil death, abandoned in turn, forlorn of help. But they who had stayed by them, would perish by infection and the labour which shame would then compel them to undergo and the sick man’s accents of affection mingled with those of complaining : this kind of death the most virtuous would meet and different bodies on different piles, struggling as they did to bury the multitude of their dead ; then spent with tears and grief they would go home ; and in great part they would take to their bed from sorrow.

And none could be found whom at so fearful a time neither disease nor death nor mourning assailed.

Then too every shepherd and herdsman, ay and sturdy guider of the bent plough sickened ; and their bodies would lie huddled together in the corners of a hut, delivered over to death by poverty and disease. Sometimes you might see lifeless bodies of parents above their Hfeless children, and then the reverse of this, children giving up life above their mothers and fathers. And in no small measure that affliction streamed from the land into the town, brought thither by the sickening crowd of peasants meeting plague-stricken from every side. They would fill all places and buildings : wherefore all the more death would pile them up in heaps as they were thus huddled together in the upper town. Many bodies drawn forth by thirst and tumbled out along the streets would He extended by the fountains of water, the breath of life cut off from their too great delight in water ; and over all the open places of the people and the streets you might see many limbs drooping with their half-lifeless body, foul with stench and covered with rags, perish away from filth of body, with nothing but skin on their bones, now nearly buried in noisome sores and dirt. All the holy sanctuaries of the gods too, death had filled with lifeless bodies, and all the temples of the heavenly powers in all parts stood burdened with carcasses : all which places the wardens had thronged with guests. For now no longer the worship of the gods or their divinities were greatly regarded : so overmastering was the present affliction. Nor did those rites of sepulture continue in force in the city, with which that pious folk had always been wont to be buried ; for the whole of it was in dismay and confusion, and each man would sorrowfully bury as the present moment allowed. And the sudden pressure and poverty prompted to many frightful acts ; thus with a loud uproar they would place their own kinsfolk upon the funeral of others, and apply torches, quarrelling often with much bloodshed than abandon the bodies.

Text #8620

Plutarch. Lives. Series: Plutarch's Parallel Lives. Vol. 3
[Plut. Per. 34--38. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Harvard University Press. 1916. (11 Vols.) pp. 99--111]


34 As it was, in the first place, a pestilential destruction fell upon them61 and devoured clean the prime of their youth and power. It weakened them in body and in spirit, and made them altogether wild against Pericles, so that, for all the world as the mad will attack a physician or a father, so they, in the delirium of the plague, attempted to do him harm, persuaded thereto by his enemies. These urged that the plague was caused by the crowding of the rustic multitudes together into the city, where, in the summer season, many were huddled together in small dwellings and stifling barracks, and compelled to lead a stay-at‑home and inactive life, instead of being in the pure and open air of heaven as they were wont. They said that Pericles was responsible for this, who, because of the war, had poured the rabble from the country into the walled city, and then gave that mass of men no employment whatever, but suffered them, thus penned up like cattle, to fill one another full of corruption, and provided them no change or respite. […]

36[…] Besides all this, the slanderous charge concerning his own wife Stesimbrotus says was sown abroad in public by Xanthippus himself, and also that the quarrel which the young man had with his father remained utterly incurable up to the time of his death, — for Xanthippus fell sick and died during the plague.

Pericles lost his sister also at that time, and of his relatives and friends the largest part, and those who were most serviceable to him in his administration of the city. He did not, however, give up, nor yet abandon his loftiness and grandeur of spirit because of his calamities, nay, he was not even seen to weep, either at the funeral rites, or at the grave of any of his connections, until indeed he lost the very last remaining one of his own legitimate sons, Paralus. Even though he was bowed down at this stroke, he nevertheless tried to persevere in his habit and maintain his spiritual greatness, but as he laid a wreath upon the dead, he was vanquished by his anguish at the sight, so that he broke out into wailing, and shed a multitude of tears, although he had never done any such thing in all his life before. […]

38At this time, it would seem, the plague laid hold of Pericles, not with a violent attack, as in the case of others, nor acute, but one which, with a kind of sluggish distemper that prolonged itself through varying changes, used up his body slowly and undermined the loftiness of his spirit. Certain it is that Theophrastus, in his “Ethics,” querying whether one’s character follows the bent of one’s fortunes and is forced by bodily sufferings to abandon its high excellence, records this fact, that Pericles, as he lay sick, showed one of his friends who was come to see him an amulet that the women had hung round his neck, as much as to say that he was very badly off to put up with such folly as that.

Text #8622

Littman. "The Plague of Athens"


In the summer of 430, a destructive plague struck the city of Athens. Toward the beginning of May 430 the Spartan King Archidamus II again brought the invading Peloponnesian army into Attica to continue the destruction begun in the first year of the Peloponnesian War. The Spartan army remained in Attica for forty days, and laid siege to Athens. It was probably in early May that the plague outbreak occurred. Thucydides is our principal source. He was stricken with the plague himself and carefully described its symptoms. According to him, the plague started in Ethiopia and Egypt before spreading through much of the Persian Empire and then reaching Greece. Subsequent epidemic waves were noted in 429 and 428 before ending in 426. Apparently, the epidemic lasted around 4.5 to 5 years, without interruption but with exposing outbreaks.

The political ramifications of the Plague of Athens were enormous because it struck Athens shortly after the beginning of the war. Although Athens was devastated by the outbreak, Sparta, like Poland during the Black Death, was relatively unscathed because the epidemic did not penetrate the Spartan homeland in the Peloponnesus1. The plague carried off perhaps 75,000 to 100,000 people, about 25% of the population of Athens during the first few years of the war. The Greeks had always believed that plague outbreak were divine punishment for human action that angered the Gods. Thus, the Athenians blamed Pericles, the staunchest advocate of war against Sparta, for the plague outbreak. Pericles, who had lost his two sons Xanthippus and Paralus to the plague, perished of the disease in the autumn of 429. The plague was a major reason for the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. It was economically and socially devastating to Athens, both at the time and in the subsequent centuries2. The combination of disease and war depopulated Athens and changed Greek history, which might have been very different had Athens won the war.

According to the clinical description of Thucydides, people were stricken suddenly with severe headaches, inflamed eyes, and bleeding in their mouths and throats. The next symptoms were coughing, sneezing, and chest pains; when the illness descended to the digestive tract, it brought stomach cramps, intense vomiting and diarrhea, and unquenchable thirst. Sufferers broke out in a rash and many became delirious. Death usually came on the seventh or eighth day of the illness, although those who survived the first phase often died from the weakness brought on by constant diarrhea. Many who recovered lost their eyesight, their memory, or the use of their extremities. The Athenians tried to avoid infection by not caring for the sick and not observing proper burial rites for friends and family. Thucydides tells of whole households perishing with no one to help them and of dead bodies lying in the streets and temples, untouched even by animals and birds of prey. Such attempts mattered little, however, as people of all ages, incomes, and levels of general health succumbed. Those who were lucky enough to recover had a partial immunity. If by chance they got the disease again, the second attack was never fatal.3.

The number of articles on the Athenian plague is prodigious. Many different suggestions for its cause have been proposed, with no agreement whatsoever among the modern historians. Modern suggestions for the cause of the disease include, among others, measles4, bubonic plague5, Ebola6, typhoid fever7, influenza8, scarlet fever9, tularemia10, and ergotism11. However, 2 diagnoses have dominated the modern literature on the Athenian plague: smallpox12 and typhus13.

Except the classical account of Thucydides, Lucretius (c.99 BC- c. 55 BC), using Thucydides as his source, represents the plague not only as a physical calamity, but also as a moral one: the plague-stricken Athenians, living before Epicurus’ remedies were available, were philosophically, as well as medically, unequipped to deal with this situation of extreme adversity. There is the further point that the Epicureans were fond of representing the unenlightened as diseased or plague-stricken, and there can be little doubt that the condition of the plague’s victims symbolizes for Lucretius the moral condition of those ignorant of Epicurean philosophy14.

Finally, Sophocle in his tragedy Oedipus the King, composed in the first half of the decade 430–420, describes a plague that hit Thebes in Boeotia and could possibly be related to the plague that struck Athens.In the first scene of the play, Sophocles presents the basic social and historical axes around which he will unfold the plot. The devastating plague that dominates Thebes is presented to the audience through the dialogue between Oedipus and the Priest (lines 1–67). The king has already taken some action to deal with this harm by sending his brother-in-law, Creon, to the oracle at Delphi to ask for a salvation plan (lines 68–72). The oracle announces that the plague is a result of religious pollution and that the god Apollo requests that the people of Thebes exile the previously unknown “miasma” (a word of Greek origin with a sense of moral noxious pollution) away from the town (lines 96–98). Oedipus asks the citizens to stop praying and focus on finding the cure (lines 142–146) . In lines 167–215 the Chorus stays on stage to summarize the situation and beg for salvation. Searching for the miasma, Oedipus summons the blind prophet Tiresias to reveal who is responsible for this evil (lines 300–313). At the moment that Tiresias reveals to Oedipus that the king himself is the cause of the plague (lines 350–353), the epidemic becomes a secondary issue, and, as a result, there are only occasional references to the plague during the remainder of the play (lines 665–666, 685–686, 1380–1383, 1424–1428).15

  1. Some communities in the Peloponnese apparently began to build temples to their gods because they had been spared by the disease. [nE]

  2. For example, Pausanias (3.9.2) wrote that over 30 years later the postwar Athenians begged off from joining the Panhellenic expedition to Asia Minor on the pretext that they were still suffering from the vast manpower losses of the war and the plague. [nE]

  3. Kohn G.C. (ed), Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence,2008, p.22-23; Robert J. Littman, MLitt, The Plague of Athens: Epidemiology and Paleopathology, Mont Sina Journal of Medecine 76, 2009, p. 456-457; Byrne J.P. (ed), Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics and Plague, 2008, p. 531-532; Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 2003, p.76-80; Hanson V.D., A War like No Other, 2007, p.65-88 [nE]

  4. J. F. D. Shrewsbury, ‘The Plague of Athens’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, xxiv (1950), i. 1-25. [nE]

  5. E. W. Williams, “The Sickness at Athens,” Greece and Rome 26 (1957) 98-103 [nE]

  6. Kazanjian P (2015). “Ebola in Antiquity? Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America” PMID: 26033924; Scarrow, G. D. “The Athenian Plague: A Possible Diagnosis.” Anc. Hist. Bull. 2,1988, 4-8. [nE]

  7. In 2001, a mass grave was discovered at the cemetery of the Kerameikos, which belonged to the plague years by Effie Baziotopoulou-Valavani from the University of Athens. From skeletal material, Manolis Papagrigorakis et al. were able to extract ancient microbial typhoid (S. enterica serovar Typhi) DNA from the remains; thus sugesting that the probable cause of the plague was this disease: Baziotopoulou-Valavani E. A mass burial from the cemetery of Kerameikos. In Stamatopoulou M, Yeroulanou M, eds. “Excavating Classical Culture: Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Greece”. Oxford, England: Archaeopress; 2002; 187–201. Studies in Classical Archaeology; vol I. 43; Papagrigorakis MJ, Yapijakis C, Synodinos PN, Baziotopoulou-Valavani E. “DNA examination of ancient dental pulp indicates typhoid fever as a probable cause of the Plague of Athens”. Int J Infect Dis 2006; 10: 206–214. [nE]

  8. Langmuir, A. D. et al.. “The Thucydides Syndrome. A New Hypothesis of the Cause of the Plague at Athens.” New. Eng. J. Medicine 313, 1985, 1027-30. [nE]

  9. Rolleston, J. D. The History of the Acute Exanthemata. London,1937 [nE]

  10. Wylie, J. A. H. and H. W. Stubbs. “The Plague at Athens 430-428 BC: Epidemic and Epizootic.” CQ 33, 1983, 6-11. [nE]

  11. P. Salway and W. Dell, Plague at Athens,Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Jun., 1955), pp. 62-70 [nE]

  12. Robert J. Littman and M. L. Littman, “Athenian Plague: Smallpox”, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 100 (1969), p. 261-275; H. Zinsser, Rats, Lice and History, 1963, p.119-127 [nE]

  13. W. P. MacArthur, “The Athenian Plague: A Medical Note,” CQ n.s. 4 (1954) p.171-174; David M. Morens and Robert J. Littman, “Epidemiology of the Plague of Athens”, Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 122 (1992), pp. 271-304; Scarborough J., “Thucydides, Greek Medicine, and the Plague at Athens,” Episteme, 4, 1970, p. 77—90 [nE]

  14. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, trans. Martin Ferguson Smith, 2001, p. xxxiii-xxxiv [nE]

  15. Kousoulis A.A. et al., “The Plague of Thebes, a Historical Epidemic in Sophocles” Oedipus Rex, Emerg Infect Dis. 2012 Jan; 18(1): 153–157. [nE]

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