Two Years and then Some More: A Plague’s Retreat and Return

Thucydides, Peloponnesian War 3.87

“As winter started coming on, the disease afflicted the Athenians a second time—even though it hadn’t totally disappeared before, there was still a period of relief. Then it lingered no less than a year when the first encounter was two. The overall result was that nothing overwhelmed the Athenians and sapped their power more than this.

No fewer than 4400 hoplites died from the ranks along with three hundred cavalry. And the number of the rest of the masses that died was never discovered.”

Τοῦ δ’ ἐπιγιγνομένου χειμῶνος ἡ νόσος τὸ δεύτερον ἐπέπεσε τοῖς ᾿Αθηναίοις, ἐκλιποῦσα μὲν οὐδένα χρόνον τὸ παντάπασιν, ἐγένετο δέ τις ὅμως διοκωχή. παρέμεινε δὲ τὸ μὲν ὕστερον οὐκ ἔλασσον ἐνιαυτοῦ, τὸ δὲ πρότερον καὶ δύο ἔτη, ὥστε ᾿Αθηναίους γε μὴ εἶναι ὅτι μᾶλλον τούτου ἐπίεσε καὶ ἐκάκωσε τὴν δύναμιν· τετρακοσίων γὰρ ὁπλιτῶν καὶ τετρακισχιλίων οὐκ ἐλάσσους ἀπέθανον ἐκ τῶν τάξεων καὶ τριακοσίων ἱππέων, τοῦ δὲ ἄλλου ὄχλου ἀνεξεύρετος ἀριθμός.

The famous plague is described at 2.47-55 and first fell on the Athenians in 430 BCE. Three years later, after a respite, it returned.

The tenth plague: the death of the first-born including Pharaoh’s son. From the Haggadah for Passover (the ‘Sister Haggadah’). 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 14th century. British Library

Human Sacrifice is Supposed to END Plagues

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.

Cleansing the City

Plutarch, Romulus 24

“Then a plague fell on the land, bringing unexpected death to people without sickness, also infecting the crops with barrenness and making the cattle stop reproducing. Drops of blood rained on the city too which added great superstition to the compulsory suffering.

When similar things happened to the people in Laeurentum, it seemed obvious to everyone that it was the crime against justice over Tatius and the murdered ambassadors which drove divine rage against the cities. Once the murderers were surrendered and punished on both sides, the horrors clearly ebbed. Romulus also cleansed the city with purificatory rites which people allege are still celebrated in our time at the Ferentine gate.”

XXIV. Ἐκ τούτου λοιμὸς ἐμπίπτει, θανάτους μὲν αἰφνιδίους ἀνθρώποις ἄνευ νόσων ἐπιφέρων, ἁπτόμενος δὲ καὶ καρπῶν ἀφορίαις καὶ θρεμμάτων ἀγονίαις. ὕσθη δὲ καὶ σταγόσιν αἵματος ἡ πόλις, ὥστε πολλὴν προσγενέσθαι τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις πάθεσι δεισιδαιμονίαν. ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ τοῖς τὸ Λαύρεντον οἰκοῦσιν ὅμοια συνέβαινεν, ἤδη παντάπασιν ἐδόκει τῶν ἐπὶ Τατίῳ συγκεχυμένων δικαίων ἐπί τε τοῖς πρέσβεσι φονευθεῖσι μήνιμα δαιμόνιον ἀμφοτέρας ἐλαύνειν τὰς πόλεις. ἐκδοθέντων δὲ τῶν φονέων καὶ κολασθέντων παρ᾿ ἀμφοτέροις, ἐλώφησεν ἐπιδήλως τὰ δεινά· καὶ καθαρμοῖς ὁ Ῥωμύλος ἥγνισε τὰς πόλεις, οὓς ἔτι νῦν ἱστοροῦσιν ἐπὶ τῆς Φερεντίνης πύλης συντελεῖσθαι.

Petter Paul Rubens, Romulus and Remus

Hold Olympics, End a Plague? Make Herakles Your Friend Too

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 Lukourgos who wrong 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.

File:A competitor in the long jump, Black-figured Tyrrhenian amphora showing athletes and a combat scene, Greek, but made for the Etruscan market, 540 BC, found near Rome, Winning at the ancient Games, British Museum (7675649600).jpg
Jump Your Way to Health! Black Figure Vase, British Museum

Cleansing the City

Plutarch, Romulus 24

“Then a plague fell on the land, bringing unexpected death to people without sickness, also infecting the crops with barrenness and making the cattle stop reproducing. Drops of blood rained on the city too which added great superstition to the compulsory suffering.

When similar things happened to the people in Laeurentum, it seemed obvious to everyone that it was the crime against justice over Tatius and the murdered ambassadors which drove divine rage against the cities. Once the murderers were surrendered and punished on both sides, the horrors clearly ebbed. Romulus also cleansed the city with purificatory rites which people allege are still celebrated in our time at the Ferentine gate.”

XXIV. Ἐκ τούτου λοιμὸς ἐμπίπτει, θανάτους μὲν αἰφνιδίους ἀνθρώποις ἄνευ νόσων ἐπιφέρων, ἁπτόμενος δὲ καὶ καρπῶν ἀφορίαις καὶ θρεμμάτων ἀγονίαις. ὕσθη δὲ καὶ σταγόσιν αἵματος ἡ πόλις, ὥστε πολλὴν προσγενέσθαι τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις πάθεσι δεισιδαιμονίαν. ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ τοῖς τὸ Λαύρεντον οἰκοῦσιν ὅμοια συνέβαινεν, ἤδη παντάπασιν ἐδόκει τῶν ἐπὶ Τατίῳ συγκεχυμένων δικαίων ἐπί τε τοῖς πρέσβεσι φονευθεῖσι μήνιμα δαιμόνιον ἀμφοτέρας ἐλαύνειν τὰς πόλεις. ἐκδοθέντων δὲ τῶν φονέων καὶ κολασθέντων παρ᾿ ἀμφοτέροις, ἐλώφησεν ἐπιδήλως τὰ δεινά· καὶ καθαρμοῖς ὁ Ῥωμύλος ἥγνισε τὰς πόλεις, οὓς ἔτι νῦν ἱστοροῦσιν ἐπὶ τῆς Φερεντίνης πύλης συντελεῖσθαι.

Petter Paul Rubens, Romulus and Remus

Magic Words and Quack Cures: An ‘Epic’ Fail During a Plague

Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 36

“There was one oracle, also an autophone, which he had sent to all peoples during the plague. It was a single line of verse, “Phoebus, with uncut hair, keeps off the cloud of plague.”

This line was to be seen everywhere, written on doorposts as a spell against the plague. In most cases it produced the opposite result. For, through some fortune, those homes on which the line was written were those which were especially impacted. Don’t imagine that I am saying that they were destroyed because of the line, but that it happened this way in some fashion. Perhaps the people who were encouraged by the words acted negligently or took everything too easily and did nothing to help the oracle against the disease because they believed they had these syllables to fight for them and “long-haired” Apollo to shoot down the plague with his bow.”

ἕνα δέ τινα χρησμόν, αὐτόφωνον καὶ αὐτόν, εἰς ἅπαντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν τῷ λοιμῷ διεπέμψατο· ἦν δὲ τὸ ἔπος ἕν·

Φοῖβος ἀκειρεκόμης λοιμοῦ νεφέλην ἀπερύκει.

καὶ τοῦτο ἦν ἰδεῖν τὸ ἔπος πανταχοῦ ἐπὶ τῶν πυλώνων γεγραμμένον ὡς τοῦ λοιμοῦ ἀλεξιφάρμακον. τὸ δ᾿ εἰς τοὐναντίον τοῖς πλείστοις προὐχώρει· κατὰ γάρ τινα τύχην αὗται μάλιστα αἱ οἰκίαι ἐκενώθησαν αἷς τὸ ἔπος ἐπεγέγραπτο. καὶ μή με νομίσῃς τοῦτο λέγειν, ὅτι διὰ τὸ ἔπος ἀπώλλυντο· ἀλλὰ τύχῃ τινὶ οὕτως ἐγένετο. τάχα δὲ καὶ οἱ πολλοὶ θαρροῦντες τῷ στίχῳ ἠμέλουν καὶ ῥᾳθυμότερον διῃτῶντο, οὐδὲν τῷ χρησμῷ πρὸς τὴν νόσον συντελοῦντες, ὡς ἂν ἔχοντες προμαχομένας αὑτῶν τὰς συλλαβὰς καὶ τὸν ἀκειρεκόμην Φοῖβον ἀποτοξεύοντα τὸν λοιμόν.

Herakles tripod Louvre F341.jpg
Apollo and Herakles fight over tripod, Taleides painter

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.

 

Palermo-trionfo-della-morte-bjs.jpg
Triumph of Death Fresco, Palermo
File:Follower of Jheronimus Bosch - The Harrowing of Hell.jpg
“The Harrowing of Hell” Hieronymus Bosch

Murdered Immigrant Children and a Plague: A Different Medea Story

Child murder, worries about immigrants, and paranoia about drugs. Why are the ancients so weird?

Scholia B on Euripides, Medea 264

Parmeniskos writes as follows: “The story is that because the Korinthian women did not want to be ruled by a foreign woman and poison-user, they conspired against her and killed her children, seven male and seven female. Euripides says that Medea had only two. When the children were being pursued, they fled to the temple of Hera Akraia and sheltered in the shrine. But the Korinthians did not restrain themselves even there—they slaughtered the children over the altar.

Then a plague fell upon the city and many bodies were ruined by the disease. When they went to the oracle, it prophesied that they should appease the god for the slaughter of Medea’s children. For this reason, even in our day, the Korinthians send seven young men and seven young women from the most illustrious families each year to spend the year in the sanctuary to appease the rage of the children and the divine anger which arose because of them.”

But Didymos argues against this and provides Kreophylos’ writings: “For Medea is said to have killed the leader of Korinth at the time, Kreon, with drugs, when she was living there. Because she feared his friends and relatives, she fled to Athens, but left her sons who were too young and incapable of accompanying here, at the altar of Hera Akraia. She thought that their father would provide for their safety. But once Kreon’s relatives killed them they circulated the tale that Medea not only killed Kreon but murdered her own children too.”

1 Παρμενίσκος γράφει κατὰ λέξιν οὕτως·

« <…>1 ταῖς [δὲ] Κορινθίαις οὐ βουλομέναις ὑπὸ βαρβάρου καὶ φαρμακίδος γυναικὸς ἄρχεσθαι αὐτῆι τε ἐπιβουλεῦσαι καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς ἀνελεῖν, ἑπτὰ μὲν ἄρσενα, ἑπτὰ δὲ θήλεα. [Εὐριπίδης δὲ δυσὶ μόνοις φησὶν αὐτὴν κεχρῆσθαι]. ταῦτα δὲ διωκόμενα καταφυγεῖν εἰς τὸ τῆς Ἀκραίας ῞Ηρας ἱερὸν καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ ἱερὸν καθίσαι· Κορινθίους δὲ αὐτῶν οὐδὲ οὕτως ἀπέχεσθαι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσφάξαι. λοιμοῦ δὲ γενομένου εἰς τὴν πόλιν, πολλὰ σώματα ὑπὸ τῆς νόσου διαφθείρεσθαι· μαντευομένοις δὲ αὐτοῖς χρησμωιδῆσαι τὸν θεὸν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὸ τῶν Μηδείας τέκνων ἄγος. ὅθεν Κορινθίοις μέχρι τῶν καιρῶν τῶν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς καθ᾽ ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτὸν ἑπτὰ κούρους καὶ ἑπτὰ κούρας τῶν ἐπισημοτάτων ἀνδρῶν ἐναπενιαυτίζειν ἐν τῶι τῆς θεᾶς τεμένει καὶ μετὰ θυσιῶν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὴν ἐκείνων μῆνιν καὶ τὴν δι᾽ ἐκείνους γενομένην τῆς θεᾶς ὀργήν. »

2 Δίδυμος δὲ ἐναντιοῦται τούτωι καὶ παρατίθεται τὰ Κρεωφύλου ἔχοντα οὕτως·

« τὴν γὰρ Μήδειαν λέγεται διατρίβουσαν ἐν Κορίνθωι τὸν ἄρχοντα τότε τῆς πόλεως Κρέοντα ἀποκτεῖναι φαρμάκοις. δείσασαν δὲ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς συγγενεῖς αὐτοῦ φυγεῖν εἰς ᾽Αθήνας, τοὺς δὲ υἱούς, ἐπεὶ νεώτεροι ὄντες οὐκ ἠδύναντο ἀκολουθεῖν, ἐπὶ τὸν βωμὸν τῆς ᾽Ακραίας ῞Ηρας καθίσαι, νομίσασαν τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν φροντιεῖν τῆς σωτηρίας αὐτῶν. τοὺς δὲ Κρέοντος οἰκείους ἀποκτείναντας αὐτοὺς διαδοῦναι λόγον ὅτι ἡ Μήδεια οὐ μόνον τὸν Κρέοντα ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἑαυτῆς παῖδας ἀπέκτεινε. »

It has long been a favorite anecdote that Euripides was paid off by the Korinthians to make Medea look bad. For other accounts of Medea: Here’s one about her saving lives, another about her losing a beauty contest to Achilles’ mother Thetis, another account of it being Jason’s fault, an earlier scholion explaining how much the Korinthian women hated Medea, rationalizing accounts about Medea’s magic and her treatment of Pelias.

Medea by Corrado Giaquinto

The Epidemic’s Over, We’re Fine

Cicero, Letters to Friends, to Terentia 8 (14.1)

“When it comes to my family, I will do what you report seems right to our friends. Concerning where I am currently, the epidemic is certainly already over and, even though it lasted a while, it didn’t touch me. Plancius, the most dutiful man, longs to keep me with him and detains me here.

I was hoping to stay in some deserted place in Epirus where Piso and his soldiers would never come, but Plancius holds me here. He posts that it will turn out to be possible for him to leave for Italy with me. Should I see that day and return to your embrace and my families and get you and myself back again, I will judge that a great profit of your commitment and mine.”

De familia, quo modo placuisse scribis amicis faciemus. de loco, nunc quidem iam abiit pestilentia, sed quam diu fuit me non attigit. Plancius, homo officiosissimus, me cupit esse secum et adhuc retinet. ego volebam loco magis deserto esse in Epiro, quo neque Piso veniret nec milites, sed adhuc Plancius me retinet; sperat posse fieri ut mecum in Italiam decedat. quem ego diem si videro et si in vestrum complexum venero ac si et vos et me ipsum reciperaro, satis magnum mihi fructum videbor percepisse et vestrae pietatis et meae.

Cicero Very Fine

Another Plague: Profiteering

For more on how leaders make plagues worse, look around, or go here.

Philo, On the Virtues 92

“They were so messed up in the mind and so obsessed with making money, they treated every kind of profit as if they were dying”

εἰσὶ δ᾿ οἳ οὕτως ῥυπῶσι τὰς διανοίας προστετηκότες ἀργυρισμῷ καὶ δυσθανατῶντες περὶ πᾶσαν ἰδέαν κέρδους

Plato, Laws 906c

“But there are some souls who live with us on the earth and have come to possess unjust profit, which is clearly inhuman. They implore the guards, whether they are shepherds or guard-dogs, or the highest of all masters as they beg them, trying to persuade them with pleasing words and enchanting spells—as the stories of evil men go. They are able to profiteer among human beings without suffering anything!

But we say that the crime we call now “profiteering” is the same as a disease in the body’s flesh, or what we would call a plague in some seasons and years, or what, once the word is translated, is injustice itself in cities and states.”

ψυχαὶ δή τινες ἐπὶ γῆς οἰκοῦσαι καὶ ἄδικον λῆμμα κεκτημέναι, δῆλον ὅτι θηριώδεις πρὸς τὰς τῶν φυλάκων ψυχὰς ἄρα κυνῶν ἢ τὰς τῶν νομέων ἢ πρὸς τὰς τῶν παντάπασιν ἀκροτάτων δεσποτῶν προσπίπτουσαι πείθουσι θωπείαις λόγων, καὶ ἐν εὐκταίαις τισὶν ἐπῳδαῖς, ὡς αἱ φῆμαί φασιν αἱ τῶν κακῶν, ἐξεῖναι πλεονεκτοῦσι σφίσιν ἐν ἀνθρώποις πάσχειν μηδὲν χαλεπόν. φαμὲν δ᾿ εἶναί που τὸ νῦν ὀνομαζόμενον ἁμάρτημα τὴν πλεονεξίαν ἐν μὲν σαρκίνοις σώμασι νόσημα  καλούμενον, ἐν δὲ ὥραις ἐτῶν καὶ ἐνιαυτοῖς λοιμόν, ἐν δὲ πόλεσι καὶ πολιτείαις τοῦτο αὐτό, ῥήματι μετεσχηματισμένον, ἀδικίαν.

Theognis, 725-726

“No one goes to Hell with all his precious possessions”

… τὰ γὰρ περιώσια πάντα/ χρήματ’ ἔχων οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται εἰς ᾿Αίδεω

Image result for ancient greek money hoard
Money hoard. From the Smithsonian Magazine