Human Sacrifice, Plagues, and Civil Strife

So, I think we did this wrong…

Clement, First Letter to the Corinthians 55

“Let’s offer some examples from other peoples as well. Many kings and people in charge, have given themselves to death after listening to an oracle, so that they might save their citizens with their own blood. And many private citizens have exiled themselves in order to decrease civil strife.

Ἵνα δὲ καὶ ὑποδείγματα ἐθνῶν ἐνέγκωμεν· πολλοὶ βασιλεῖς καὶ ἡγούμενοι, λοιμικοῦ τινος ἐνστάντος καιροῦ χρησμοδοτηθέντες παρέδωκαν ἑαυτοὺς εἰς θάνατον, ἵνα ῥύσωνται διὰ τοῦ ἑαυτῶν αἵματος τοὺς πολίτας· πολλοὶ ἐξεχώρησαν ἰδίων πόλεων, ἵνα μὴ στασιάζωσιν ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

Stobaios, Florilegium  3.7.69

“When a plague was afflicting the Spartans because of the murder of the heralds sent by Xerxes—because he demanded earth and water as signs of servitude—they received an oracle that they would be saved if some Spartans would be selected to be killed by the king. Then Boulis and Sperkhis came forward to the king because they believed they were worthy to be sacrificed. Because he was impressed by their bravery he ordered them to go home.”

Τοῦ αὐτοῦ. λοιμοῦ κατασχόντος τὴν Λακεδαίμονα διὰ τὴν ἀναίρεσιν τῶν κηρύκων τῶν ἀπεσταλέντων παρὰ Ξέρξου αἰτοῦντος γῆν καὶ ὕδωρ ὥσπερ ἀπαρχὰς δουλείας, χρησμὸς ἐδόθη ἐπαλλαγήσεσθαι αὐτούς, εἴ γέ τινες ἕλοιντο Λακεδαιμονίων παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως ἀναιρεθῆναι. τότε Βοῦλις καὶ Σπέρχις ἀφικόμενοι πρὸς βασιλέα ἠξίουν ἀναιρεθῆναι· ὁ δὲ θαυμάσας αὐτῶν τὴν ἀρετὴν ἐπανιέναι προσέταξεν.

Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.4.5-6

“After Oksulos, Laias, his son, held power, but I have learned that his descendants did not rule as kings. I am going to pass over them even though I know who they are, since I do not want my story to descend to talking about private citizens.

Later on, Iphitos, who was a descendant of Oksulos and around the same age as Lykourgos who wrote the laws for the Spartans, he organized the contests at Olympia and re-organized the Olympic festival and the truce from the beginning, since the games had been neglected for some amount of time. I explain this in the parts of my record which discuss the region of Olympia.

It was Iphitos’ responsibility to ask the god in Delphi for a relief from suffering since Greece was at that time especially suffering destruction from civil strife and epidemic disease. The story is that the Pythia commanded that Iphitos himself had to renew the Olympic Games along with the Eleians. Iphitos persuaded the Eleians to sacrifice to Herakles too, even though that had previously believed that Herakles was their enemy.

The inscription at Olympia claims that Iphitos was the child of Haimon. But most Greeks say that he was the son of Praksônides, not Haimôn. But the Eleians’ ancient writings attribute Iphitos to a father of the same name.”

μετὰ δὲ ῎Οξυλον Λαίας ἔσχεν ὁ ᾽Οξύλου τὴν ἀρχήν, οὐ μὴν τούς γε ἀπογόνους αὐτοῦ βασιλεύοντας εὕρισκον, καὶ σφᾶς ἐπιστάμενος ὅμως παρίημι· οὐ γάρ τί μοι καταβῆναι τὸν λόγον ἠθέλησα ἐς ἄνδρας ἰδιώτας. χρόνωι δὲ ὕστερον ῎Ιφιτος, γένος μὲν ὢν ἀπὸ ᾽Οξύλου, ἡλικίαν δὲ κατὰ Λυκοῦργον τὸν γράψαντα Λακεδαιμονίοις τοὺς νόμους, τὸν ἀγῶνα διέθηκεν ἐν ᾽Ολυμπίαι πανήγυρίν τε Ολυμπικὴν αὖθις ἐξ ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐκεχειρίαν κατεστήσατο, ἐκλιπόντα ἐπὶ χρόνον ὁπόσος δὴ οὗτος ἦν. αἰτίαν δέ, δι᾽ ἥντινα ἐξέλιπε τὰ ᾽Ολύμπια, ἐν τοῖς ἔχουσιν ἐς ᾽Ολυμπίαν τοῦ λόγου δηλώσω. (6) τῶι δὲ ᾽Ιφίτωι, φθειρομένης τότε δὴ μάλιστα τῆς ῾Ελλάδος ὑπὸ ἐμφυλίων στάσεων καὶ ὑπὸ νόσου λοιμώδους, ἐπῆλθεν αἰτῆσαι τὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς θεὸν λύσιν τῶν κακῶν· καί οἱ προσταχθῆναί φασιν ὑπὸ τῆς Πυθίας ὡς αὐτόν τε ῎Ιφιτον δέοι καὶ ᾽Ηλείους τὸν ᾽Ολυμπικὸν ἀγῶνα ἀνανεώσασθαι. ἔπεισε δὲ ᾽Ηλείους ῎Ιφιτος καὶ ῾Ηρακλεῖ θύειν, τὸ πρὸ τούτου πολέμιόν σφισιν ῾Ηρακλέα εἶναι νομίζοντας. τὸν δὲ ῎Ιφιτον τὸ ἐπίγραμμα τὸ ἐν ᾽Ολυμπίαι φησὶν Αἵμονος παῖδα εἶναι· ῾Ελλήνων δὲ οἱ πολλοὶ Πραξωνίδου καὶ οὐχ Αἵμονος εἶναί φασι· τὰ δὲ ᾽Ηλείων γράμματα ἀρχαῖα ἐς πατέρα ὁμώνυμον ἀνῆγε τὸν ῎Ιφιτον.

Ps.-Plutarch, Parallela minora 19A, 310B-C

“Kuanippos, a Syracusan by birth, did not sacrifice to Dionysus alone. In rage over this, the god caused him to become drunk and then he raped his daughter Kuanê in some shadowy place. She took his ring and gave it to her nurse as to be proof of what had happened in the future.

When they were later struck by a plague and Pythian Apollo said that they had to sacrifice the impious person to the Gods-who-Protect, everyone else was uncertain about the oracle. Kuanê understood it. She grabbed her father by the hair and sacrificed herself over him once she’d butchered him on the altar.

That’s the story Dositheos tells in the third book of his Sicilian Tales.

Κυάνιππος γένει Συρακούσιος μόνωι Διονύσωι οὐκ ἔθυεν· ὁ δὲ θεὸς ὀργισθεὶς μέθην ἐνέσκηψε, καὶ ἐν τόπωι σκοτεινῶι τὴν θυγατέρα ἐβιάσατο Κυάνην· ἡ δὲ τὸν δακτύλιον περιελομένη ἔδωκε τῆι τροφῶι ἐσόμενον ἀναγνώρισμα. λοιμωξάντων δὲ, καὶ τοῦ Πυθίου εἰπόντος μὲν δεῖν τὸν ἀσεβῆ <᾽Απο>τροπαίοις θεοῖς σφαγιάσαι, τῶν δ᾽ ἄλλων ἀγνοούντων τὸν χρησμόν, γνοῦσα ἡ Κυάνη καὶ ἐπιλαβομένη τῶν τριχῶν εἷλκε, καὶ αὐτὴ κατασφάξασα τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτὴν ἐπέσφαξε, καθάπερ Δοσίθεος ἐν τῶι τρίτωι Σικελικῶν.

Plague of Athens - Wikipedia
The Plague of Athens, Michiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

Hesiod, Works and Days 240-247

“The whole state often suffers because of a wicked man
Who transgresses the gods and devises reckless deeds.
Kronos’ son rains down great pain on them from heaven:
Famine and plague and the people start to perish.
[Women don’t give birth and households waste away
Thanks to the vengeance of Olympian Zeus.] And at other times
Kronos’ son ruins their great army or their wall
Or he destroys their ships on the the sea.”

πολλάκι καὶ ξύμπασα πόλις κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀπηύρα,
ὅστις ἀλιτραίνῃ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα μηχανάαται.
τοῖσιν δ’ οὐρανόθεν μέγ’ ἐπήγαγε πῆμα Κρονίων,
λιμὸν ὁμοῦ καὶ λοιμόν, ἀποφθινύθουσι δὲ λαοί·
[οὐδὲ γυναῖκες τίκτουσιν, μινύθουσι δὲ οἶκοι
Ζηνὸς φραδμοσύνῃσιν ᾿Ολυμπίου· ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε]
ἢ τῶν γε στρατὸν εὐρὺν ἀπώλεσεν ἢ ὅ γε τεῖχος
ἢ νέας ἐν πόντῳ Κρονίδης ἀποτείνυται αὐτῶν.

 

Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 4, 5

“He had banquet and bedroom furniture made from silver. He often ate camel-heels and cock’s combs removed from birds who were still alive to imitate Apicius, as well as the tongues of peacocks and nightingales because it was said that whoever ate them was safe from the plague.

He also gave the the Palace visitors enormous serving dishes piled with the innards of mullets, flamingo-brains, partridge eggs, the brains of thrushes, and the whole heads of parrots, pheasants, and peacocks.”

Hic solido argento factos habuit lectos et tricliniares et cubiculares. comedit saepius ad imitationem Apicii calcanea camelorum et cristas vivis gallinaceis demptas, linguas pavonum et lusciniarum, quod qui ederet a pestilentia tutus diceretur. exhibuit et Palatinis lances ingentes extis mullorum refertas et cerebellis phoenicopterum et perdicum ovis et cerebellis turdorum et capitibus psittacorum et phasianorum et pavonum.

Thucydides, 3.82.7-8 

“To exact vengeance from someone was thought to be more important than not suffering at all. If oaths were ever taken in turn, were strong because each person was at a loss and had no power at all. But as soon as one of them had the advantage, he attached if he saw anyone unguarded: it was sweeter to take vengeance despite a pledge than to do so openly. It was thought generally to be safe and to have won a prize for intelligence, prevailing by deceit. Many wicked people become famous for being clever than good people do for being ingenuous. Men are ashamed by the latter but delight in the former.

To blame for all of these things the love of power and a love of honor. From both, they fell into a voluntary love of conflict. For those who were in charge of the state each claimed identities for themselves, some the equal rights of the masses, the others the wisdom of the aristocrats; while guarding the common goods in word, they were making them the contest’s prize, competing with one another to be pre-eminent, they dared the most terrible things—and they surpassed them with greater acts of vengeance too. They did not regard either justice or advantage for the city…”

ἀντιτιμωρήσασθαί τέ τινα περὶ πλείονος ἦν ἢ αὐτὸν μὴ προπαθεῖν. καὶ ὅρκοι εἴ που ἄρα γένοιντο ξυναλλαγῆς, ἐν τῷ αὐτίκα πρὸς τὸ ἄπορον ἑκατέρῳ διδόμενοι ἴσχυον οὐκ ἐχόντων ἄλλοθεν δύναμιν· ἐν δὲ τῷ παρατυχόντι ὁ φθάσας θαρσῆσαι, εἰ ἴδοι ἄφαρκτον, ἥδιον διὰ τὴν πίστιν ἐτιμωρεῖτο ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ προφανοῦς, καὶ τό τε ἀσφαλὲς ἐλογίζετο καὶ ὅτι ἀπάτῃ περιγενόμενος ξυνέσεως ἀγώνισμα προσελάμβανεν. ῥᾷον δ’ οἱ πολλοὶ κακοῦργοι ὄντες δεξιοὶ κέκληνται ἢ ἀμαθεῖς ἀγαθοί, καὶ τῷ μὲν αἰσχύνονται, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ἀγάλλονται. πάντων δ’ αὐτῶν αἴτιον ἀρχὴ ἡ διὰ πλεονεξίαν καὶ φιλοτιμίαν· ἐκ δ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐς τὸ φιλονικεῖν καθισταμένων τὸ πρόθυμον. οἱ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι προστάντες μετὰ ὀνόματος ἑκάτεροι εὐπρεποῦς, πλήθους τε ἰσονομίας πολιτικῆς καὶ ἀριστοκρατίας σώφρονος προτιμήσει, τὰ μὲν κοινὰ λόγῳ θεραπεύοντες ἆθλα ἐποιοῦντο, παντὶ δὲ τρόπῳ ἀγωνιζόμενοι ἀλλήλων περιγίγνεσθαι ἐτόλμησάν τε τὰ δεινότατα ἐπεξῇσάν τε τὰς τιμωρίας ἔτι μείζους…

Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians

“Because [Solon] noticed that his city was often breaking out into civil strife and that some of the citizens welcomed the results because of ambivalence, he made a law particularly aimed at these people: whoever did not pick up arms for one side or the other during a time of civil conflict was to be disenfranchised and have no part of the state.”

ὁρῶν δὲ τὴν μὲν πόλιν πολλάκις στασιάζουσαν, τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν ἐνίους διὰ τὴν ῥᾳθυμίαν [ἀγα]πῶντας τὸ αὐτόματον, νόμον ἔθηκεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἴδιον, ὃς ἂν στασιαζούσης τῆς πόλεως μ[ὴ] θῆται τὰ ὅπλα μηδὲ μεθ’ ἑτέρων, ἄτιμον εἶναι καὶ τῆς πόλεως μὴ μετέχειν.

Plato, Laws 856b-d

“Whoever raises a human being into power and thus enslaves the laws, whoever makes the state subordinate to his petty faction and transgresses what is right by doing all of this violently and stirring up civil strife, he should be considered the most inimical to the whole state.

And the kind of person who does not share these actions, but does occupy some of the most important offices of the state and either fails to observe them or does not fail but will not avenge his country because of cowardice, he should be considered as a citizen at a second degree of evil.

Let each person whose worth is small bear witness to the officers of the state by bringing this person to court for his plotting violent and unconstitutional revolution. Give them the same charges we have for temple robbery and run the trial as it is in those cases where the death penalty comes by majority vote.”

ὃς ἂν ἄγων εἰς ἀρχὴν ἄνθρωπον δουλῶται μὲν τοὺς νόμους, ἑταιρείαις δὲ τὴν πόλιν ὑπήκοον ποιῇ, καὶ βιαίως δὴ πᾶν τοῦτο πράττων καὶ στάσιν ἐγείρων παρανομῇ, τοῦτον δὴ διανοεῖσθαί δεῖ πάντων πολεμιώτατον ὅλῃ τῇ πόλει. τὸν δὲ κοινωνοῦντα μὲν τῶν τοιούτων μηδενί, τῶν μεγίστων δὲ μετέχοντα ἀρχῶν ἐν τῇ πόλει, λεληθότα τε ταῦτα αὐτὸν ἢ μὴ λεληθότα, δειλίᾳ δ᾿ ὑπὲρ Cπατρίδος αὑτοῦ μὴ τιμωρούμενον, δεῖ δεύτερον ἡγεῖσθαι τὸν τοιοῦτον πολίτην κάκῃ. πᾶς δὲ ἀνὴρ οὗ καὶ σμικρὸν ὄφελος ἐνδεικνύτω ταῖς ἀρχαῖς εἰς κρίσιν ἄγων τὸν ἐπιβουλεύοντα βιαίου πολιτείας μεταστάσεως ἅμα καὶ παρανόμου. δικασταὶ δὲ ἔστωσαν τούτοις οἵπερ τοῖς ἱεροσύλοις, καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν κρίσιν ὡσαύτως αὐτοῖς γίγνεσθαι καθάπερ ἐκείνοις, τὴν ψῆφον δὲ θάνατον φέρειν τὴν πλήθει νικῶσαν.

Solon, fr. 4.32-39

“Good government makes everything well ordered and fit,
And at the same time it throws shackles on the unjust.
It levels out the rough, stops insolence, and weakens arrogance.
It causes the growing blossoms of blindness to wither.
It straightens crooked judgments and it levels out over-reaching deeds.
It stops the acts of civil conflict and
It stops the anger of grievous strife and because of it
Everything among men is wisely and appropriately done.”

Εὐνομίη δ’ εὔκοσμα καὶ ἄρτια πάντ’ ἀποφαίνει,
καὶ θαμὰ τοῖς ἀδίκοις ἀμφιτίθησι πέδας·
τραχέα λειαίνει, παύει κόρον, ὕβριν ἀμαυροῖ,
αὑαίνει δ’ ἄτης ἄνθεα φυόμενα,
εὐθύνει δὲ δίκας σκολιάς, ὑπερήφανά τ’ ἔργα
πραΰνει· παύει δ’ ἔργα διχοστασίης,
παύει δ’ ἀργαλέης ἔριδος χόλον, ἔστι δ’ ὑπ’ αὐτῆς
πάντα κατ’ ἀνθρώπους ἄρτια καὶ πινυτά.

Human Sacrifice is Supposed to END Plagues

So, I think we did this wrong…

Clement, First Letter to the Corinthians 55

“Let’s offer some examples from other peoples as well. Many kings and people in charge, have given themselves to death after listening to an oracle, so that they might save their citizens with their own blood. And many private citizens have exiled themselves in order to decrease civil strife.”

Ἵνα δὲ καὶ ὑποδείγματα ἐθνῶν ἐνέγκωμεν· πολλοὶ βασιλεῖς καὶ ἡγούμενοι, λοιμικοῦ τινος ἐνστάντος καιροῦ χρησμοδοτηθέντες παρέδωκαν ἑαυτοὺς εἰς θάνατον, ἵνα ῥύσωνται διὰ τοῦ ἑαυτῶν αἵματος τοὺς πολίτας· πολλοὶ ἐξεχώρησαν ἰδίων πόλεων, ἵνα μὴ στασιάζωσιν ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

Stobaios, Florilegium  3.7.69

“When a plague was afflicting the Spartans because of the murder of the heralds sent by Xerxes—because he demanded earth and water as signs of servitude—they received an oracle that they would be saved if some Spartans would be selected to be killed by the king. Then Boulis and Sperkhis came forward to the king because they believed they were worthy to be sacrificed. Because he was impressed by their bravery he ordered them to go home.”

Τοῦ αὐτοῦ. λοιμοῦ κατασχόντος τὴν Λακεδαίμονα διὰ τὴν ἀναίρεσιν τῶν κηρύκων τῶν ἀπεσταλέντων παρὰ Ξέρξου αἰτοῦντος γῆν καὶ ὕδωρ ὥσπερ ἀπαρχὰς δουλείας, χρησμὸς ἐδόθη ἐπαλλαγήσεσθαι αὐτούς, εἴ γέ τινες ἕλοιντο Λακεδαιμονίων παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως ἀναιρεθῆναι. τότε Βοῦλις καὶ Σπέρχις ἀφικόμενοι πρὸς βασιλέα ἠξίουν ἀναιρεθῆναι· ὁ δὲ θαυμάσας αὐτῶν τὴν ἀρετὴν ἐπανιέναι προσέταξεν.

Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum 1.110 [Epimenides]

“Epimenides was known among the Greeks and was thought to be extremely beloved to the gods. For this reason, when the Athenians were once afflicted by a plague and the Pythian oracle prophesied that they should cleanse their city, they sent a ship along with Nikias the son of Nikêratos, summoning Epimenides.

He made it to Athens at the time of the 46th Olympiad [c. 596 BCE] and cleansed the city. He stopped it in the following manner. After obtaining white and black sheep, he led them to the Areopagos and then allowed them to go wherever they wanted there. He ordered the people following them to sacrifice the sheep to whichever god was proper to the place where each sheep laid down.

This is how the plague stopped. For this reason it is still even today possible to find altars without names in certain Athenian neighborhoods as a commemoration of that ancient cleansing. Some people report that Epimenides indicated the pollution from the Kylon scandal as the cause of the plague along with a resolution for it. For this reason, they killed two youths, Kratinos and Ktêsibios and the suffering was relieved.”

(110) γνωσθεὶς δὲ παρὰ τοῖς ῞Ελλησι θεοφιλέστατος εἶναι ὑπελήφθη. ὅθεν καὶ Ἀθηναίοις ποτὲ λοιμῶι κατεχομένοις ἔχρησεν ἡ Πυθία καθῆραι τὴν πόλιν, οἱ δὲ πέμπουσι ναῦν τε καὶ Νικίαν τὸν Νικηράτου εἰς Κρήτην, καλοῦντες τὸν Ἐπιμενίδην. καὶ ὃς ἐλθὼν ὀλυμπιάδι τεσσαρακοστῆι ἕκτηι ἐκάθηρεν αὐτῶν τὴν πόλιν, καὶ ἔπαυσε τὸν λοιμὸν τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον· λαβὼν πρόβατα μέλανά τε καὶ λευκά, ἤγαγεν πρὸς τὸν ῎Αρειον πάγον, κἀκεῖθεν εἴασεν ἰέναι οἷ βούλοιντο, προστάξας τοῖς ἀκολούθοις, ἔνθα ἂν κατακλινῆι αὐτῶν ἕκαστον, θύειν τῶι προσήκοντι θεῶι· καὶ οὕτω λῆξαι τὸ κακόν· ὅθεν ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἔστιν εὺρεῖν κατὰ τοὺς δήμους τῶν Ἀθηναίων βωμοὺς ἀνωνύμους, ὑπόμνημα τῆς τότε γενομενης ἐξιλάσεως. οἱ δὲ τὴν αἰτίαν εἰπεῖν τοῦ λοιμοῦ τὸ Κυλώνειον ἄγος σημαίνειν τε τὴν ἀπαλλαγήν· καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἀποθανεῖν δύο νεανίας Κρατῖνον καὶ Κτησίβιον, καὶ λυθῆναι τὴν συμφοράν

Ps.-Plutarch, Parallela minora 19A, 310B-C

“Kuanippos, a Syracusan by birth, did not sacrifice to Dionysus alone. In rage over this, the god caused him to become drunk and then he raped his daughter Kuanê in some shadowy place. She took his ring and gave it to her nurse as to be proof of what had happened in the future.

When they were later struck by a plague and Pythian Apollo said that they had to sacrifice the impious person to the Gods-who-Protect, everyone else was uncertain about the oracle. Kuanê understood it. She grabbed her father by the hair and sacrificed herself over him once she’d butchered him on the altar.

That’s the story Dositheos tells in the third book of his Sicilian Tales.

Κυάνιππος γένει Συρακούσιος μόνωι Διονύσωι οὐκ ἔθυεν· ὁ δὲ θεὸς ὀργισθεὶς μέθην ἐνέσκηψε, καὶ ἐν τόπωι σκοτεινῶι τὴν θυγατέρα ἐβιάσατο Κυάνην· ἡ δὲ τὸν δακτύλιον περιελομένη ἔδωκε τῆι τροφῶι ἐσόμενον ἀναγνώρισμα. λοιμωξάντων δὲ, καὶ τοῦ Πυθίου εἰπόντος μὲν δεῖν τὸν ἀσεβῆ <᾽Απο>τροπαίοις θεοῖς σφαγιάσαι, τῶν δ᾽ ἄλλων ἀγνοούντων τὸν χρησμόν, γνοῦσα ἡ Κυάνη καὶ ἐπιλαβομένη τῶν τριχῶν εἷλκε, καὶ αὐτὴ κατασφάξασα τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτὴν ἐπέσφαξε, καθάπερ Δοσίθεος ἐν τῶι τρίτωι Σικελικῶν.

Plague of Athens - Wikipedia
The Plague of Athens, Michiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

Hesiod, Works and Days 240-247

“The whole state often suffers because of a wicked man
Who transgresses the gods and devises reckless deeds.
Kronos’ son rains down great pain on them from heaven:
Famine and plague and the people start to perish.
[Women don’t give birth and households waste away
Thanks to the vengeance of Olympian Zeus.] And at other times
Kronos’ son ruins their great army or their wall
Or he destroys their ships on the the sea.”

πολλάκι καὶ ξύμπασα πόλις κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀπηύρα,
ὅστις ἀλιτραίνῃ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα μηχανάαται.
τοῖσιν δ’ οὐρανόθεν μέγ’ ἐπήγαγε πῆμα Κρονίων,
λιμὸν ὁμοῦ καὶ λοιμόν, ἀποφθινύθουσι δὲ λαοί·
[οὐδὲ γυναῖκες τίκτουσιν, μινύθουσι δὲ οἶκοι
Ζηνὸς φραδμοσύνῃσιν ᾿Ολυμπίου· ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε]
ἢ τῶν γε στρατὸν εὐρὺν ἀπώλεσεν ἢ ὅ γε τεῖχος
ἢ νέας ἐν πόντῳ Κρονίδης ἀποτείνυται αὐτῶν.

 

Some other cures:

Diogenes Laertius, Empedocles 8.70

“When a plague struck the Selinuntians thanks to the pollution from a nearby river causing people to die and the women to miscarry, Empedocles recognized the problem and turned two local rivers at his own expense. They sweetened the streams by mixing in with them.

Once the plague was stopped in this way, Empedocles appeared while the Selinuntines were having a feast next to the river. They rose and bowed before him, praying to him as if he were a god. He threw himself into a fire because he wanted to test the truth of his divinity.”

τοῖς Σελινουντίοις ἐμπεσόντος λοιμοῦ διὰ τὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ παρακειμένου ποταμοῦ δυσωδίας, ὥστε καὶ αὐτοὺς φθείρεσθαι καὶ τὰς γυναῖκας δυστοκεῖν, ἐπινοῆσαι τὸν Ἐμπεδοκλέα καὶ δύο τινὰς ποταμοὺς τῶν σύνεγγυς ἐπαγαγεῖν ἰδίαις δαπάναις· καὶ καταμίξαντα γλυκῆναι τὰ ῥεύματα. οὕτω δὴ λήξαντος τοῦ λοιμοῦ καὶ τῶν Σελινουντίων εὐωχουμένων ποτὲ παρὰ τῷ ποταμῷ, ἐπιφανῆναι τὸν Ἐμπεδοκλέα· τοὺς δ’ ἐξαναστάντας προσκυνεῖν καὶ προσεύχεσθαι καθαπερεὶ θεῷ. ταύτην οὖν θέλοντα βεβαιῶσαι τὴν διάληψιν εἰς τὸ πῦρ ἐναλέσθαι.

Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 4, 5

“He had banquet and bedroom furniture made from silver. He often ate camel-heels and cock’s combs removed from birds who were still alive to imitate Apicius, as well as the tongues of peacocks and nightingales because it was said that whoever ate them was safe from the plague.

He also gave the the Palace visitors enormous serving dishes piled with the innards of mullets, flamingo-brains, partridge eggs, the brains of thrushes, and the whole heads of parrots, pheasants, and peacocks.”

Hic solido argento factos habuit lectos et tricliniares et cubiculares. comedit saepius ad imitationem Apicii calcanea camelorum et cristas vivis gallinaceis demptas, linguas pavonum et lusciniarum, quod qui ederet a pestilentia tutus diceretur. exhibuit et Palatinis lances ingentes extis mullorum refertas et cerebellis phoenicopterum et perdicum ovis et cerebellis turdorum et capitibus psittacorum et phasianorum et pavonum.

The Sorrow of Times Like These

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 6.1230-1251

“This thing alone had to be mourned the most,
This lamented: how when anyone would give up
when they realized they had contracted the disease
As condemned to die, they would stretch out with a sad heart,
Surrendering their spirit while considering the rites of the dead.

For the spread of that greedy sickness did not stop
Even for a single moment from one to another,
Thick together as woolly flocks and horned heads—
That’s the reason why grave was piling on grave.
Whoever was reluctant to see their own sick,
For this very excessive love of life and fear of death
They were punished eventually with a foul and evil end,
As deserters without help, paid back for their neglect.

But those who stayed to help faced contagion too,
And the suffering which shame compelled them to meet.
The pleading voice of the weary mixed with cries of complaint.
Well, the best kinds of souls met death like this.

…Then some falling upon others, fighting to bury their masses
Of dead, worn out by tears and grief as they returned.
They surrendered to their beds for the better part.

No one could be found anywhere who was untouched by the disease
By the death, by the sorrow of times like these.”

Illud in his rebus miserandum magnopere unum
aerumnabile erat, quod ubi se quisque videbat
implicitum morbo, morti damnatus ut esset,
deficiens animo maesto cum corde iacebat,
funera respectans animam amittebat ibidem.

quippe etenim nullo cessabant tempore apisci
ex aliis alios avidi contagia morbi,
lanigeras tamquam pecudes et bucera saecla;
idque vel in primis cumulabat funere funus.
nam quicumque suos fugitabant visere ad aegros,
vitai nimium cupidos mortisque timentis
poenibat paulo post turpi morte malaque,
desertos, opis expertis, incuria mactans.

qui fuerant autem praesto, contagibus ibant
atque labore, pudor quem tum cogebat obire
blandaque lassorum vox mixta voce querellae.
optimus hoc leti genus ergo quisque subibat.
. . . . . . .
inque aliis alium, populum sepelire suorum
certantes; lacrimis lassi luctuque redibant;
inde bonam partem in lectum maerore dabantur.
nec poterat quisquam reperiri, quem neque morbus
nec mors nec luctus temptaret tempore tali.

 

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Triumph of Death Fresco, Palermo
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“The Harrowing of Hell” Hieronymus Bosch

A Brutal End to a Plague

Ps.-Plutarch, Parallela minora 19A, 310B-C

“Kuanippos, a Syracusan by birth, did not sacrifice to Dionysus alone. In rage over this, the god caused him to become drunk and then he raped his daughter Kuanê in some shadowy place. She took his ring and gave it to her nurse as to be proof of what had happened in the future.

When they were later struck by a plague and Pythian Apollo said that they had to sacrifice the impious person to the Gods-who-Protect, everyone else was uncertain about the oracle. Kuanê understood it. She grabbed her father by the hair and sacrificed herself over him once she’d butchered him on the altar.

That’s the story Dositheos tells in the third book of his Sicilian Tales.

Κυάνιππος γένει Συρακούσιος μόνωι Διονύσωι οὐκ ἔθυεν· ὁ δὲ θεὸς ὀργισθεὶς μέθην ἐνέσκηψε, καὶ ἐν τόπωι σκοτεινῶι τὴν θυγατέρα ἐβιάσατο Κυάνην· ἡ δὲ τὸν δακτύλιον περιελομένη ἔδωκε τῆι τροφῶι ἐσόμενον ἀναγνώρισμα. λοιμωξάντων δὲ, καὶ τοῦ Πυθίου εἰπόντος μὲν δεῖν τὸν ἀσεβῆ <᾽Απο>τροπαίοις θεοῖς σφαγιάσαι, τῶν δ᾽ ἄλλων ἀγνοούντων τὸν χρησμόν, γνοῦσα ἡ Κυάνη καὶ ἐπιλαβομένη τῶν τριχῶν εἷλκε, καὶ αὐτὴ κατασφάξασα τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτὴν ἐπέσφαξε, καθάπερ Δοσίθεος ἐν τῶι τρίτωι Σικελικῶν.

 Archaeological Museum of Herakleion. Sarcophagus of Agia Triada 

An Eyewitness to Useless Prayers

Thucydides 2.47-48

“And when they were in Attica for not very many days the disease first began to develop among the Athenians. It had allegedly emerged in many places before, especially around Lemnos and in other places. But so great a plague with such a high human mortality rate was not recorded as happening anywhere else. For the doctors were of no use at the beginning as caregivers because of ignorance, and they were dying especially because they were attending to sick people the most. And there was no other mortal means to approach it.

All the prayers in the temples and at oracles and those kinds of places amounted to nothing right up to the point they people stopped even trying them because they were overcome by the suffering.

The story goes that the sickness started in the part of Ethiopia above Egypt and then it moved to Egypt and Libya and then over most of the King’s land. When it suddenly fell on Athens, it afflicted people in the Piraeus first and it was there that it was said that the Peloponnesians must be throwing drugs into the cisterns, since there were no streams there. Later it spread to the higher part of the city where many more people begin to die.

Let each person who understands something about this, whether a doctor or a private citizen, speak about what its likely origin was and whatever causes he believes likely of such a great change. I will only say what kind of a disease it was and how someone might recognize it and be able not to be ignorant about it if it should appear again. I will describe it clearly because I was sick myself and I watched others suffering from it too.”

3] καὶ ὄντων αὐτῶν οὐ πολλάς πω ἡμέρας ἐν τῇ Ἀττικῇ ἡ νόσος πρῶτον ἤρξατο γενέσθαι τοῖς Ἀθηναίοις, λεγόμενον μὲν καὶ πρότερον πολλαχόσε ἐγκατασκῆψαι καὶ περὶ Λῆμνον καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις χωρίοις, οὐ μέντοι τοσοῦτός γε λοιμὸς οὐδὲ φθορὰ οὕτως ἀνθρώπων οὐδαμοῦ ἐμνημονεύετο γενέσθαι. [4] οὔτε γὰρ ἰατροὶ ἤρκουν τὸ πρῶτον θεραπεύοντες ἀγνοίᾳ, ἀλλ᾽ αὐτοὶ μάλιστα ἔθνῃσκον ὅσῳ καὶ μάλιστα προσῇσαν, οὔτε ἄλλη ἀνθρωπεία τέχνη οὐδεμία: ὅσα τε πρὸς ἱεροῖς ἱκέτευσαν ἢ μαντείοις καὶ τοῖς τοιούτοις ἐχρήσαντο, πάντα ἀνωφελῆ ἦν, τελευτῶντές τε αὐτῶν ἀπέστησαν ὑπὸ τοῦ κακοῦ νικώμενοι.

  1. ἤρξατο δὲ τὸ μὲν πρῶτον, ὡς λέγεται, ἐξ Αἰθιοπίας τῆς ὑπὲρ Αἰγύπτου, ἔπειτα δὲ καὶ ἐς Αἴγυπτον καὶ Λιβύην κατέβη καὶ ἐς τὴν βασιλέως γῆν τὴν πολλήν. [2] ἐς δὲ τὴν Ἀθηναίων πόλιν ἐξαπιναίως ἐσέπεσε, καὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἐν τῷ Πειραιεῖ ἥψατο τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὥστε καὶ ἐλέχθη ὑπ᾽ αὐτῶν ὡς οἱ Πελοποννήσιοι φάρμακα ἐσβεβλήκοιεν ἐς τὰ φρέατα: κρῆναι γὰρ οὔπω ἦσαν αὐτόθι. ὕστερον δὲ καὶ ἐς τὴν ἄνω πόλιν ἀφίκετο, καὶ ἔθνῃσκον πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἤδη. [3] λεγέτω μὲν οὖν περὶ αὐτοῦ ὡς ἕκαστος γιγνώσκει καὶ ἰατρὸς καὶ ἰδιώτης, ἀφ᾽ ὅτου εἰκὸς ἦν γενέσθαι αὐτό, καὶ τὰς αἰτίας ἅστινας νομίζει τοσαύτης μεταβολῆς ἱκανὰς εἶναι δύναμιν ἐς τὸ μεταστῆσαι σχεῖν: ἐγὼ δὲ οἷόν τε ἐγίγνετο λέξω, καὶ ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἄν τις σκοπῶν, εἴ ποτε καὶ αὖθις ἐπιπέσοι, μάλιστ᾽ ἂν ἔχοι τι προειδὼς μὴ ἀγνοεῖν, ταῦτα δηλώσω αὐτός τε νοσήσας καὶ αὐτὸς ἰδὼν ἄλλους πάσχοντας.
The Plague of AthensMichiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

 

Scapegoating Foreigners for Plagues

Today I published a piece in the Conversation about the function of plagues in ancient myth as frameworks to think about human leadership and how we generally make things worse for ourselves because of our own stupidity, ignorance, or denial

Individuals and groups cope with trauma and fear by externalizing causality, by searching for people or things to blame apart from ourselves. This often takes the form of scapegoating–typically aimed at the weak or those we position as different from ourselves. In Athens’ calamitous plague, this happened too.

Thucydides, 2.48

“The story goes that the sickness started in the part of Ethiopia above Egypt and then it moved to Egypt and Libya and then over most of the King’s land. When it suddenly fell on Athens, it afflicted people in the Piraeus first and it was there that it was said that the Peloponnesians must be throwing drugs into the cisterns, since there were no streams there. Later it spread to the higher part of the city where many more people begin to die.”

  1. ἤρξατο δὲ τὸ μὲν πρῶτον, ὡς λέγεται, ἐξ Αἰθιοπίας τῆς ὑπὲρ Αἰγύπτου, ἔπειτα δὲ καὶ ἐς Αἴγυπτον καὶ Λιβύην κατέβη καὶ ἐς τὴν βασιλέως γῆν τὴν πολλήν. [2] ἐς δὲ τὴν Ἀθηναίων πόλιν ἐξαπιναίως ἐσέπεσε, καὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἐν τῷ Πειραιεῖ ἥψατο τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὥστε καὶ ἐλέχθη ὑπ᾽ αὐτῶν ὡς οἱ Πελοποννήσιοι φάρμακα ἐσβεβλήκοιεν ἐς τὰ φρέατα: κρῆναι γὰρ οὔπω ἦσαν αὐτόθι. ὕστερον δὲ καὶ ἐς τὴν ἄνω πόλιν ἀφίκετο, καὶ ἔθνῃσκον πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἤδη.

As historians note, epidemics during the time of Justinian were similarly sourced to Africa and the Near East and Medieval people saw the Black Death as coming from the Levant. Thucydides recounts that ,in their desperation to find a cause, the Athenians blamed the Spartans for poisoning their wells, just as Northern Europeans scapegoated Jewish populations in the 14th Century for the bubonic plague (See Marchant, 1891 ad loc.). The Athenians realized that they were wrong about sabotage when the Spartans and their allies started dying too.

(There are accounts of biological warfare from the Ancient world. Ironically, the Athenians are the ones implicated.)

The sad truth of this is not distant to us: as recently as today Fox News’ poster boy for white stupidity, Tucker Carlson, is arguing that it is not racist to call COVID-19 the “Chinese Coronavirus” [not linked too, because, well, it’s stupid and racist). And, last night, our brilliant commander in chief banned travel to and from Europe for non-Americans. This means US Citizens can come home. Oh, and people from the UK can come too. As such, the travel ban is mere improvisational propaganda, an attempt to seem to do something which actually may be worse than doing nothing at all.

Say what you will about the cupidity and stupidity of Agamemnon in the Iliad–when faced with the facts, he understood the cause of the plague and sent Chryseis’ daughter home.

The Plague of AthensMichiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

Other plague posts:

Keep Your Hands Clean With This One Easy Trick!

The Worst Part of a Plague: Despair

The Wages of a Wicked Man: Plague, Broken Walls, Fallen Armies

PSA: An Epidemic’s First Acts

The Worst Part of a Plague: Despair

Thucydides, 2.51

“The most terrible feature of the sickness was the despair which came when anyone perceived they were getting sick. For when they fell into to this depression they surrendered much of their will and could not endure the thought of the disease. In addition people were dying like sheep, contracting the disease by caring for one another.

This caused the most fatalities. For If they were not willing to visit one another out of fear, then they died along and many households vanished because they lacked anyone to care for them. But if they did go to visit, then they were still dying. This happened the most with those who still tried to be virtuous. Shame would not let them spare themselves as they went to visit their friends, even as the cries of the people dying were ending and the whole family was exhausted, overcome by the sickness.

But it was those who had survived who pitied the dying and the struggling because they understood what it was like and no longer had fear for themselves. The same person didn’t get sick a second time to the point of dying.”

[4] δεινότατον δὲ παντὸς ἦν τοῦ κακοῦ ἥ τε ἀθυμία ὁπότε τις αἴσθοιτο κάμνων (πρὸς γὰρ τὸ ἀνέλπιστον εὐθὺς τραπόμενοι τῇ γνώμῃ πολλῷ μᾶλλον προΐεντο σφᾶς αὐτοὺς καὶ οὐκ ἀντεῖχον), καὶ ὅτι ἕτερος ἀφ᾽ ἑτέρου θεραπείας ἀναπιμπλάμενοι ὥσπερ τὰ πρόβατα ἔθνῃσκον: καὶ τὸν πλεῖστον φθόρον τοῦτο ἐνεποίει. [5] εἴτε γὰρ μὴ ‘θέλοιεν δεδιότες ἀλλήλοις προσιέναι, ἀπώλλυντο ἐρῆμοι, καὶ οἰκίαι πολλαὶ ἐκενώθησαν ἀπορίᾳ τοῦ θεραπεύσοντος: εἴτε προσίοιεν, διεφθείροντο, καὶ μάλιστα οἱ ἀρετῆς τι μεταποιούμενοι: αἰσχύνῃ γὰρ ἠφείδουν σφῶν αὐτῶν ἐσιόντες παρὰ τοὺς φίλους, ἐπεὶ καὶ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις τῶν ἀπογιγνομένων τελευτῶντες καὶ οἱ οἰκεῖοι ἐξέκαμνον ὑπὸ τοῦ πολλοῦ κακοῦ νικώμενοι. [6] ἐπὶ πλέον δ᾽ ὅμως οἱ διαπεφευγότες τόν τε θνῄσκοντα καὶ τὸν πονούμενον ᾠκτίζοντο διὰ τὸ προειδέναι τε καὶ αὐτοὶ ἤδη ἐν τῷ θαρσαλέῳ εἶναι: δὶς γὰρ τὸν αὐτόν, ὥστε καὶ κτείνειν, οὐκ ἐπελάμβανεν.

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Seriously, if you are quarantined, read this. It won’t make you feel worse.