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.

Have We Tried Using Bay Leaves on Coronavirus?

Pliny, Natural History 23. 157

“Some people have suggested using ten berries in a drink against scorpion stings. You can use the same to relieve a relaxed uvula: gargle quarter pound of berries or leaves reduced in three measure of water when it is still warm. To treat a headache, use an uneven number of berries crushed and warmed in oil. The leaves of the delphic bay, once pounded, may stop the spread of the plague if you smell them: this works even better when they are burned.”

quidam adversus scorpionum ictus decem bacas dari iubent potu, item et in remedio uvae iacentis quadrantem pondo bacarum foliorumve decoqui in aquae sextariis tribus ad tertias, eam calidam gargarizare et in capitis dolore inpari numero bacas cum oleo conterere et calfacere.  laurus Delphicae folia trita olfactaque subinde pestilentiae contagia prohibent, tanto magis si et urantur.

There’s a new version of Perseus using the Scaife viewer: check out the passages here.

Killing the God of Plague and Famine

Plutarch On Isis and Osiris 370 b-c

“A fated time is coming when Areimanios, because he brings plague and famine, must be killed and then forced to disappear altogether. Then, when the earth is balanced and even, there will be one life and a shared government of all the lucky people with a shared language for all.

Theopompos claims that, according to the Magi, one of the gods rules for a term of three thousand years and then another rules in turn, and then for another three thousand years they fight and war and one destroys the accomplishments of another.

Finally, Hades is overcome and people will be happy because they no longer need food and they do not become ghosts. The god who made these things possible withdraws and rests for a time, and it is not a long time for a god it is is like a person sleeping a normal amount of time.”

ἔπεισι δὲ χρόνος εἱμαρμένος, ἐν ὧι τὸν ᾽Αρειμάνιον λοιμὸν ἐπάγοντα καὶ λιμὸν ὑπὸ τούτων ἀνάγκη φθαρῆναι παντάπασι καὶ ἀφανισθῆναι, τῆς δὲ γῆς ἐπιπέδου καὶ ὁμαλῆς γενομένης, ἕνα βίον καὶ μίαν πολιτείαν ἀνθρώπων μακαρίων καὶ ὁμογλώσσων ἁπάντων γενέσθαι. Θεόπομπος δέ φησι κατὰ τοὺς Μάγους ἀνὰ μέρος τρισχίλια ἔτη τὸν μὲν κρατεῖν τὸν δὲ κρατεῖσθαι τῶν θεῶν, ἄλλα δὲ τρισχίλια μάχεσθαι καὶ πολεμεῖν καὶ ἀναλύειν τὰ τοῦ ἑτέρου τὸν ἕτερον· τέλος δ᾽ ἀπολείπεσθαι τὸν ῞Αιδην, καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἀνθρώπους εὐδαίμονας ἔσεσθαι μήτε τροφῆς δεομένους μήτε σκιὰν ποιοῦντας, τὸν δὲ ταῦτα μηχανησάμενον θὲον ἠρεμεῖν καὶ ἀναπαύεσθαι χρόνον, [καλῶς] μὲν οὐ πολὺν [τῶι θεῶι], ὥσπερ ἀνθρώπωι κοιμωμένωι μέτριον.

A  Mithraic Arimanios

Clean Rivers and Peacock Tongues: Some Cures for the Plague

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.

File:Empedocles. Line engraving after (C. V.). Wellcome V0001768.jpg
Empedocles Line Engraving

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

Nameless Altars and Human Sacrifice

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

File:3217 - Athens - Sto… of Attalus Museum - Kylix - Photo by ...
Kylix showing an armored youth offering a sacrifice. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens, around 480 BC

A Reminder: An Epidemic’s First Acts

Rationalizing: Aristotle, Problems 1.7

“Why does the virus alone of diseases infect those especially who come near anyone under treatment for it? Is it because it is the only disease common to all and that this is why it brings the plague to all those who are previously weakened? It must be that because of the inflammation coming from people treated for the disease that others are taken quickly by the same thing.”

Διὰ τί ποτε ὁ λοιμὸς μόνη τῶν νόσων μάλιστα τοὺς πλησιάζοντας τοῖς θεραπευομένοις προσαναπίμπλησιν; ἢ ὅτι μόνη τῶν νόσων κοινή ἐστιν ἅπασιν, ὥστε διὰ τοῦτο πᾶσιν ἐπιφέρει τὸν λοιμόν, ὅσοι φαύλως ἔχοντες προϋπάρχουσιν. καὶ γὰρ διὰ τὸ ὑπέκκαυμα τῆς νόσου τῆς παρὰ τῶν θεραπευομένων | γινομένης ταχέως ὑπὸ τοῦ πράγματος ἁλίσκονται.

Blaming: Hesiod Works and Days 240-243

“The whole state often perishes because of a wicked man
Who commits outrages and plans reckless things.
Zeus drops great suffering on them from heaven,
Plague and famine together. And the people waste away.”

πολλάκι δὴ ξύμπασα πόλις κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀπηύρα,
ὅς κεν ἀλιτραίνῃ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα μητιάαται.
τοῖσιν δ᾿ οὐρανόθεν μέγ᾿ ἐπήγαγε πῆμα Κρονίων,
λιμὸν ὁμοῦ καὶ λοιμόν, ἀποφθινύθουσι δὲ λαοί·

Escaping: Thucydides 2.53

“In addition to the rest, the plague first brought the state to greater lawlessness. For now each person easily was daring what was previously hidden so it might not seem like the pursuit of pleasure once they saw that sudden change was near—how those who were wealthy died as suddenly as those who had nothing before but now took other’s things. So everyone thought it right to quickly fill their desires and lust, recognizing that bodies and things are similarly fleeting”

Πρῶτόν τε ἦρξε καὶ ἐς τἆλλα τῇ πόλει ἐπὶ πλέον ἀνομίας τὸ νόσημα. ῥᾷον γὰρ ἐτόλμα τις ἃ πρότερον ἀπεκρύπτετο μὴ καθ᾿ ἡδονὴν ποιεῖν, ἀγχίστροφον τὴν μεταβολὴν ὁρῶντες τῶν τε εὐδαιμόνων καὶ αἰφνιδίως θνῃσκόντων καὶ τῶν οὐδὲν πρότερον κεκτημένων, εὐθὺς δὲ τἀκείνων ἐχόντων. ὥστε ταχείας τὰς ἐπαυρέσεις καὶ πρὸς τὸ τερπνὸν ἠξίουν ποιεῖσθαι, ἐφήμερα τά τε σώματα καὶ τὰ χρήματα ὁμοίως ἡγούμενοι.

Peste nera in una miniatura del XV secolo

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

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
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“The Harrowing of Hell” Hieronymus Bosch

The Worst Part of a Plague: Despair

Thucydides 2.48

“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.”

  1.  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.

Thucydides, 2.51

“The most terrible feature of the sickness was the despair that 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 alone 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.

Edvard Munch, “Despair” 1894