A Preface to a Plague

Philostratus, Heroicus 14

“He reports that they were harboring a grudge again from the following kind of thing. Wolves were coming down from Mt Ida and preying upon the slaves who tend to the supplies along with the animals of burden around the dwellings. Odysseus ordered that they grab their bows and spears and go to Idea to attack the wolves, but Palamedes said, “Odysseus, Apollo is making the wolves a preface to a plague and he attacks them as he will the mules and the dogs here. He is sending them first to those who will be sick as a sign of his goodwill towards human beings for us to be on guard. Let’s pray to Lykian Apollo and Phuksios, both to destroy these beasts with his arrows and to turn the disease on the goats, as they say. And we, Greek men, let’s take care of ourselves. We need a light diet and good exercise to guard against the plague. Even though I know nothing of medicine, anything can be figured out through wisdom!”

After he said these things, he banned meat in public and ordered them army to refuse their rations. Instead, he gave the army wild plants and fruits. They consented to him because they considered everything Palamedes said to be a prophetic command. Indeed, the plague which he was foretelling caused great destruction in the cities of the Hellespont—it began, as some say, in Pontos—and it hit Troy too. But it didn’t touch any of the Greeks even though their camp was in the diseased land.”

διενεχθῆναι δὲ πάλιν αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοιούτου φησί· λύκοι καταβαίνοντεςἐκ τῆς Ἴδης ἐσίνοντο τὰ σκευοφόρα παιδάρια καὶ τῶν ὑποζυγίων τὰ περὶ τὰς σκηνάς· ὁ μὲν δὴ Ὀδυσσεὺς ἐκέλευσεν ἀραμένους τόξα καὶ ἀκόντια φοιτᾶν ἐς τὴν Ἴδην ἐπὶ τοὺς λύκους, ὁ δὲ Παλαμήδης “ὦ Ὀδυσσεῦ” ἔφη, “τοὺς λύκους ὁ Ἀπόλλων προοίμιον λοιμοῦ ποιεῖται καὶ τοξεύει μὲν αὐτοὺς καθάπερ τοὺς ὀρέας τε καὶ τοὺς κύνας ἐνταῦθα, πέμπει δὲ πρότερον παρὰ τοὺς νοσήσοντας εὐνοίας εἵνεκα τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ τοῦ φυλάξασθαι. εὐχώμεθα οὖν Ἀπόλλωνι Λυκίῳ τε καὶ Φυξίῳ, τὰ μὲν θηρία ταῦτα τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ τόξοις ἐξελεῖν, τὴν νόσον δὲ ἐς αἶγας, φασί, τρέψαι. καὶ ἡμεῖς δέ, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἕλληνες, ἐπιμελώμεθα ἡμῶν αὐτῶν· δεῖ δὲ τοῖς φυλαττομένοις τὰ λοιμώδη διαίτης λεπτῆς καὶ κινήσεων συντόνων. ἰατρικῆς μὲν γὰρ οὐχ ἡψάμην, σοφίᾳ δὲ καταληπτὰ ἅπαντα.”

εἰπὼν ταῦτα τὴν μὲν τῶν κρεῶν ἀγορὰν ἐπέσχε καὶ τὰ στρατιωτικὰ τῶν σιτίων ἐκέλευσε παραιτήσασθαι, τραγήμασι δὲ καὶ λαχάνοις ἀγρίοις διῆγε τὸν στρατὸν πειθομένους αὐτῷ καὶ πᾶν τὸ ἐκ Παλαμήδους θεῖόν τε ἡγουμένους καὶ χρησμῶδες· καὶ γὰρ δὴ ὁ λοιμὸς ὃν προὔλεγεν ἐνέσκηψε μὲν ἐς τὰς Ἑλλησποντικὰς πόλεις, ἀρξάμενος, φασίν, ἐκ τοῦ Πόντου, προσέπεσε δὲ καὶ τῷ Ἰλίῳ, τῶν δὲ Ἑλλήνων οὐδενὸς ἥψατο καίτοι στρατοπεδευόντων ἐν γῇ νοσούσῃ.

“Palamedes Before Agamemnon,” by Rembrandt

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