A Miscarriage of Justice, an Avenging Plague

Scholia on Isokrates, Hypothesis to Oration 11 

“Some search for what the reason is that he did not enter the argument against him clearly, if he would spare his teacher. And we say that it is so that the Athenians would not be angered since they had recently convicted Socrates. Therefore, it seems through this as if he is rebuking them because they convicted him badly.

And, in fact, they did change their mind later on, believing that they had acted impiously in convicting Socrates and they were made a bit wiser to this because of a plague that struck them over the death of Socrates. He died during the archonship of Laches. For this reason they ordered that no one talk about Socrates in public, as in the theater.

This kind of thing is added in addition: Euripides desired to speak about him and even afraid shaped the plot of his Palamedes in order that he might have the chance to talk allegorical about Socrates and the Athenians. In this had had some figure speaking to the Greeks—when it was really Socrates speaking to the Athenians—that you have eliminated, you have eliminated the best of the Greeks,” which means, you murdered him. The whole audience wept together, because it was a coded reference to Socrates.”

ἐζήτησαν δέ τινες διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν μὴ φανερῶς τὸν κατ’ αὐτοῦ λόγον εἰσῆλθεν, εἴ γε φείδεται τοῦ διδασκάλου. καὶ λέγομεν, ἵνα μὴ ὀργισθῶσιν οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι, ἀρτίως τοῦ Σωκράτους καταψηφισάμενοι. δοκεῖ οὖν διὰ τούτου ὥσπερ ἐλέγχειν αὐτοὺς ὡς κακῶς καταψηφισαμένους.

καὶ γὰρ καὶ αὐτοὶ ὥσπερ μετέγνωσαν ὕστερον,ὅτι ἀσεβῶς ἔπραξαν καταψηφισάμενοι Σωκράτους, εἶτα καὶ σωφρονισθέντες διὰ τοῦ λοιμοῦ τοῦ ἐγκατασκήψαντος αὐτοῖς διὰ τὸν Σωκράτους θάνατον. ἀπέθανε δὲ ἐπὶ Λάχητος ἄρχοντος. ὅθεν λοιπὸν ἐκέλευσαν μηδένα δημοσίᾳ, οἷον ἐν κοινῷ θεάτρῳ, λέγειν περὶ Σωκράτους.

ἀμέλει λέγεταί τι τοιοῦτον, ὡς [ὅτι] τοῦ Εὐριπίδου βουλομένου εἰπεῖν περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ δεδιότος ἀναπλάσαι τὸ δρᾶμα τὸν Παλαμήδην, ἵνα διὰ τούτου σχοίη καιρὸν τοῦ αἰνίξασθαι εἰς τὸν Σωκράτην καὶ εἰς τοὺς Ἀθηναίους καὶ ποιήσαντός τινα πρὸς τοὺς Ἕλληνας λέγοντα, τὸ δὲ ἀληθὲς πρὸς Ἀθηναίους διὰ Σωκράτην ‘ἐκάνετε, ἐκάνετε τῶν Ἑλλήνων τὸν ἄριστον’, ὅ ἐστιν ἐφονεύσατε. καὶ νοῆσαν τὸ θέατρον ἅπαν ἐδάκρυσε, διότι περὶ Σωκράτους αἰνίττεται.

“The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David

Plague Refugees: Kadmos, Danaus and Moses

This passage is interesting for the motif that famous founders of Greece were from Egypt (present in mythographical texts like Apollodorus’ LibraryIt also integrates Jewish origins into the same narrative.

Photios, Bibliotheca, 3801-381b [=Diodorus Siculus Histories 40.3]

“Since we are about to go over the Jewish War, I think this is a good time to go through the origins of the people from the beginning along with their customs.

When a deadly plague happened in ancient Egypt, many laid blame on the divine for their suffering. For there were many foreigners from every place living there, practicing diverse customs concerning religion and sacrifices, and the traditional religious rites were being destroyed. For these reasons, the indigenous people supposed that if they did not get rid of the foreign peoples then there would be no end to their suffering.

The different ethnic groups were expelled immediately. Some who were the most famous and eager for action gathered to leave together, as some claim, to Greece and other places, since they had leaders worthy of repute, among whom the most famous were Kadmos and Danaos. A great number of people fled to the land now called Judea, which is not far from Egypt and was completely deserted at the time. The leader of those refugees was named Moses, distinct from all by his intelligence and bravery.”

ἡμεῖς δὲ μέλλοντες ἀναγράφειν τὸν πρὸς ᾽Ιουδαίους πόλεμον, οἰκεῖον εἶναι διαλαμβάνομεν προδιελθεῖν ἐν κεφαλαίοις τήν τε τοῦ ἔθνους τούτου ἐξ ἀρχῆς κτίσιν καὶ τὰ παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς νόμιμα.  κατὰ τὴν Αἴγυπτον τὸ παλαιὸν λοιμικῆς περιστάσεως γενομένης, ἀνέπεμπον οἱ πολλοὶ τὴν αἰτίαν τῶν κακῶν ἐπὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον· πολλῶν γὰρ καὶ παντοδαπῶν κατοικούντων ξένων καὶ διηλλαγμένοις ἔθεσι χρωμένων περὶ τὸ ἱερὸν καὶ τὰς θυσίας, καταλελύσθαι συνέβαινε παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς τὰς πατρίους τῶν θεῶν τιμάς· ὅπερ οἱ τῆς χώρας ἐγγενεῖς ὑπέλαβον, ἐὰν μὴ τοὺς ἀλλοφύλους μεταστήσωνται, κρίσιν οὐκ ἔσεσθαι τῶν κακῶν.

εὐθὺς οὖν ξενηλατουμένων τῶν ἀλλοεθνῶν, οἱ μὲν ἐπιφανέστατοι καὶ δραστικώτατοι συστραφέντες ἐξερρίφησαν, ὥς τινές φασιν εἰς τὴν ῾Ελλάδα καί τινας ἑτέρους τόπους, ἔχοντες ἀξιολόγους ἡγεμόνας(?), ὧν ἡγοῦντο Δαναὸς καὶ Κάδμος τῶν ἄλλων ἐπιφανέστατοι· ὁ δὲ πολὺς λεὼς ἐξέπεσεν εἰς τὴν νῦν καλουμένην ᾽Ιουδαίαν, οὐ πόρρω μὲν κειμένην τῆς ᾽Αἰγύπτου, παντελῶς δὲ ἔρημον οὖσαν κατ᾽ ἐκείνους τοὺς χρόνους. ἡγεῖτο δὲ τῆς ἀποικίας ὁ προσαγορευόμενος Μωσῆς, φρονήσει τε καὶ ἀνδρείαι πολὺ διαφέρων.

Print, Cadmus Building Thebes, MET

A Plague of Gout on Goats

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 2.52

“Puthermos asserts, as Hêgêsandros claims, that during his time the mulberry trees did not bear fruit for 20 years and produced an epidemic of gout so badly that it affected not only men but also boys and girls, eunuchs, and women too. The plague hit a herd of goats so badly that two thirds of them died because of that same sickness”

Πύθερμος δὲ ἱστορεῖ, ὥς φησιν Ἡγήσανδρος, καθ᾿ αὑτὸν τὰς συκαμίνους οὐκ ἐνεγκεῖν καρπὸν ἐτῶν εἴκοσι καὶ γενέσθαι ἐπιδημίαν ποδαγρικὴν τοσαύτην ὥστε μὴ μόνον ἄνδρας τῷ πάθει ἐνσχεθῆναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ παῖδας καὶ κόρας καὶ εὐνούχους, ἔτι δὲ γυναῖκας. περιπεσεῖν δὲ οὕτω τὸ δεινὸν καὶ αἰπολίῳ ὡς τὰ δύο μέρη τῶν προβάτων ἐνσχεθῆναι τῷ αὐτῷ πάθει.

Wild Goat Style

Just Think Your Way Out of Sickness!

For more on plagues and leadership, see this recent post.

Aelian, Varia Historia 13.27

“Remember that Socrates’ body was thought to be orderly and in control of wisdom for this reason too. When the Athenians were suffering a pandemic and some were dying and others were near death, Socrates was the only one who was not sick. What mind do we think shared space with such a body?”

Ὅτι τὸ Σωκράτους σῶμα πεπίστευτο κόσμιον καὶ σωφροσύνης ἐγκρατὲς γεγονέναι καὶ ταύτῃ. ἐνόσουν Ἀθηναῖοι πανδημεί, καὶ οἱ μὲν ἀπέθνῃσκον, οἱ δὲ ἐπιθανατίως εἶχον, Σωκράτης δὲ μόνος οὐκ ἐνόσησε τὴν ἀρχήν. ὁ τοίνυν τοιούτῳ συνὼν σώματι τίνα ἡγούμεθα ἐσχηκέναι ψυχήν;

Apollonius of Tyana, 8.28

“Do these practices merely make a refinement of the senses or establish power over the greatest and most amazing forces? You need to see what I mean from different things, not the least of which were done during that epidemic in Ephesus.

When the disease was in the shape of an old beggar, I saw it and once I saw it I tackled it. I did not stop the disease but instead I destroyed it. The one I prayed to is clear as day in the temple which I built in thanks. It was for Herakles the Defender, the one I chose as a helper—because he is wise and brave, he once cleansed Elis of a plague and wiped away the waves of filth which the earth released when Augeas was tyrant.”

“Ἆρ᾿ οὖν τὸ οὕτως διαιτᾶσθαι λεπτότητα μόνον ἐργάζεται τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἢ ἰσχὺν ἐπὶ τὰ μέγιστά τε καὶ θαυμασιώτατα; θεωρεῖν δ᾿ ἔξεστιν ὃ λέγω καὶ ἀπ᾿ ἄλλων μέν, οὐχ ἥκιστα δὲ κἀκ τῶν ἐν Ἐφέσῳ περὶ τὴν νόσον ἐκείνην πραχθέντων· τὸ γὰρ τοῦ λοιμοῦ εἶδος, πτωχῷ δὲ γέροντι εἴκαστο, καὶ εἶδον καὶ ἰδὼν εἷλον, οὐ παύσας νόσον, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξελών, ὅτῳ δ᾿ εὐξάμενος, δηλοῖ τὸ ἱερόν, ὃ ἐν Ἐφέσῳ ὑπὲρ τούτου ἱδρυσάμην, Ἡρακλέους μὲν γὰρ Ἀποτροπαίου ἐστί, ξυνεργὸν δ᾿ αὐτὸν εἱλόμην, ἐπειδὴ σοφός τε καὶ ἀνδρεῖος ὢν ἐκάθηρέ ποτε λοιμοῦ τὴν Ἦλιν, τὰς ἀναθυμιάσεις ἀποκλύσας, ἃς παρεῖχεν ἡ γῆ κατ᾿ Αὐγέαν τυραννεύοντα.

File:Philosopher probably Apollonius of Tyana Heraklion museum original.jpg
Statue of a philosopher, probably Apollonius of Tyana. Late 2nd – 3rd century AD.

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

Keep Your Hands Clean With this One Easy trick!

Fragments of Old Comedy, 1146

“You need to start washing and you need to do it to music”

καταλαβεῖν σε τὴν πλύσιν δεῖ, δεῖ δὲ μὴ ’κτὸς μουσικοῦ

Aelian, Varia Historia 8

“…Some people with unclean hands were sailing with them…”

συμπλεόντων τινῶν οὐ καθαρῶν τὰς χεῖρας #Aelian

Aeschylus, Libation-Bearers 378

“Their leaders’ unclean hands…”

τῶν δὲ κρατούντων χέρες οὐχ ὅσιαι

Euripides, Hippolytus 1458

“Would you leave me with unwashed hands?”

ἦ τὴν ἐμὴν ἄναγνον ἐκλιπὼν χέρα;

Hand washing instructions accompanied by the opening lines of the Iliad in Greek
Created by Ryan Baumann


Dr. Matt Newman asks, “Is this all part of the plan of Zeus?”

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

Hesiod, Works and Days, 101-105

“The land is full of evils; the sea is full of evils.
Diseases come to humans at day and at night
they come on their own bringing evils to mortals in silence
Since devious Zeus took their voices away.”

πλείη μὲν γὰρ γαῖα κακῶν, πλείη δὲ θάλασσα·
νοῦσοι δ’ ἀνθρώποισιν ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ, αἳ δ’ ἐπὶ νυκτὶ
αὐτόματοι φοιτῶσι κακὰ θνητοῖσι φέρουσαι
σιγῇ, ἐπεὶ φωνὴν ἐξείλετο μητίετα Ζεύς.
οὕτως οὔ τί πη ἔστι Διὸς νόον ἐξαλέασθαι.

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.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti – Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government

A Plague Like No Other:The Seven-Day Tragic Fever

Lucian, How to Write History 1


“Dear Philo—people say that during the time of King Lysimachus a plague afflicted the people of Abdera. At first, everyone had a fever that was immediately intense and burned fiercely until around the seventh day the fever subsided—for some when a great deal of blood flowed from their nose, for others when their sweat broke out. But their minds remained in an absurd state of suffering: everyone was crazy for tragedy and they were screaming out iambics and shouting loudly. They were especially singing solos from Euripides’ Andromeda and they adapted Perseus’ speech to song too. The city was full of these pale, thin, seventh-day tragedians singing:

“Lust, you tyrant of gods and men!”

And shouting the rest of these lines at the top of their lungs endlessly until the winter and the great cold stopped their wailing. I suspect that the actor Archelaos created the cause of this affliction. He was very popular then and he had performed the Andromeda for them when it was the middle of the summer, during the hottest part of the year. I think that they contracted the fever in the theater and later reverted into tragedy when they rose from their beds, since the Andromeda was lurking in their memory and Perseus was flitting around everyone’s thoughts with Medousa’s head in his hands.”


᾿Αβδηρίταις φασὶ Λυσιμάχου ἤδη βασιλεύοντος ἐμπεσεῖν τι νόσημα, ὦ καλὲ Φίλων, τοιοῦτο· πυρέττειν μὲν γὰρ τὰ πρῶτα πανδημεὶ ἅπαντας ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης εὐθὺς ἐρρωμένως καὶ λιπαρεῖ τῷ πυρετῷ, περὶ δὲ τὴν ἑβδόμην τοῖς μὲν αἷμα πολὺ ἐκ ῥινῶν ῥυέν, τοῖς δ’ ἱδρὼς ἐπιγενόμενος, πολὺς καὶ οὗτος, ἔλυσεν τὸν πυρετόν. ἐς γελοῖον δέ τι πάθος περιίστα τὰς γνώμας αὐτῶν· ἅπαντες γὰρ ἐς τραγῳδίαν παρεκίνουν καὶ ἰαμβεῖα ἐφθέγγοντο καὶ μέγα ἐβόων· μάλιστα δὲ τὴν Εὐριπίδου᾿Ανδρομέδαν ἐμονῴδουν καὶ τὴν τοῦ Περσέως ῥῆσιν ἐν μέλει διεξῄεσαν, καὶ μεστὴ ἦν ἡ πόλις ὠχρῶν ἁπάντων καὶ λεπτῶν τῶν ἑβδομαίων ἐκείνων τραγῳδῶν,

σὺ δ’ ὦ θεῶν τύραννε κἀνθρώπων ῎Ερως,

καὶ τὰ ἄλλα μεγάλῃ τῇ φωνῇ ἀναβοώντων καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πολύ, ἄχρι δὴ χειμὼν καὶ κρύος δὲ μέγα γενόμενον ἔπαυσε ληροῦντας αὐτούς. αἰτίαν δέ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦ τοιούτου παρασχεῖν ᾿Αρχέλαος ὁ τραγῳδός, εὐδοκιμῶν τότε, μεσοῦντος θέρους ἐν

πολλῷ τῷ φλογμῷ τραγῳδήσας αὐτοῖς τὴν ᾿Ανδρομέδαν, ὡς πυρέξαι τε ἀπὸ τοῦ θεάτρου τοὺς πολλοὺς καὶ ἀναστάντας ὕστερον ἐς τὴν τραγῳδίαν παρολισθαίνειν, ἐπὶ πολὺ ἐμφιλοχωρούσης τῆς ᾿Ανδρομέδας τῇ μνήμῃ αὐτῶν καὶ τοῦ Περσέως ἔτι σὺν τῇ Μεδούσῃ τὴν ἑκάστου γνώμην περιπετομένου.


They got married in a fever.  Strange plagues indeed….

Workout like Socrates While Watching March-Madness: Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, 1.1

The way that Socrates developed the endurance of his body; and also on the temperance of that man.

“Among the voluntary actions and bodily exercises for enhancing his endurance against any possible event, we have heard that Socrates used to do this regularly: it is reported that Socrates was in that habit of standing all day long in one position, from the first shine of light one day until the next sunrise, without moving from the same footprints, keeping his eyes directed in a single place and in deep thought, as if his mind and spirit were separated from his body. This is why, when Favorinus was mentioning the strength of that man and his other qualities, he added: “He often stood from sunrise to sunrise, more solid than tree-trunks” (fr. 97.1).
His temperance was so great, as it is reported, that he lived his entire life with uncompromised health. Even during the ruin of that plague, which at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war destroyed the Athenian state with an unknown type of disease, he is said to have avoided the dangers of pleasure and to have maintained the health of his body with his habits of abstention and moderation to such a degree that he was not at all afflicted by the disaster touching everyone else.”

Quo genere solitus sit philosophus Socrates exercere patientiam corporis; deque eiusdem viri temperantia.

1 Inter labores voluntarios et exercitia corporis ad fortuitas patientiae vices firmandi id quoque accepimus Socraten facere insuevisse: 2 stare solitus Socrates dicitur pertinaci statu perdius atque pernox a summo lucis ortu ad solem alterum orientem inconivens, immobilis, isdem in vestigiis et ore atque oculis eundem in locum directis cogitabundus tamquam quodam secessu mentis atque animi facto a corpore. 3 Quam rem cum Favorinus de fortitudine eius viri ut pleraque disserens attigisset: πολλάκις ἐξ ἡλίου εἰς ἥλιον εἱστήκει ἀστραβέστερος τῶν πρέμνων (Fav. Fr. 97.1).

4 Temperantia quoque fuisse eum tanta traditum est, ut omnia fere vitae suae tempora valitudine inoffensa vixerit. 5 In illius etiam pestilentiae vastitate, quae in belli Peloponnesiaci principis Atheniensium civitatem internecivo genere morbi depopulata est, is parcendi moderandique rationibus dicitur et a voluptatum labe cavisse et salubritates corporis retinuisse, ut nequaquam fuerit communi omnium cladi obnoxius.

Earlier in the Attic Nights Aulus reports a difference type of exercise to keep the philosopher sharp.