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The Great Plague at Athens

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Classical Studies
Classical Studies 2200
Christopher Brown

Jan 11 12 The Great Plague at AthensHomers Iliad 14252 let the Danaans pay for my tears with your arrowsSo he spoke in prayer and Phoebus Apollo heard him and came down from the pinnacles of Olympus angered in his heart carrying across his shoulderthe bow and the hooded quiver and the shafts clashed on the shoulders of the god in his angerHe came like night and then knelt down apart from the ships and then let an arrow goTerrible was the clash that rose from the silver arrow First he went after the mules and the swift dogs then let go a tearing arrow against the men themselves and struck themAnd the pyres of the dead were always burning without pauseGreek Attitudes Towards Disease A disease is an external force that acts upon a personIt can be sent by the gods divine punishment and can be cured by the gods so healing is thus as aspect of religion Thucydides on the Plague I shall describe its actual course explaining the symptoms from the study of which a person should be best able having knowledge of it beforehand to recognize it if it should ever break out againFor I had the disease myself and saw other sick of it 2483 Thucydides also sets out the social context for the disease which are overcrowding failure of traditional medicine breakdown of social values etc Thucydides 249 As a rule however there was no ostensible cause but people in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head and redness and inflammation in the eyes the inward parts such as the throat or tongue becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural and fetid breath3 These symptoms were followed by sneezing and hoarseness after which the pain soon reached the chest and produced a hard cough When it fixed in the stomach it upset it and discharges of bile of every kind named by physicians ensued accompanied by very great distress4 In most cases also an ineffectual retching followed producing violent spasms which in some cases ceased soon
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