Καὶ ἡ ἀπορία τοῦ μὴ ἡσυχάζειν καὶ ἡ ἀγρυπνία ἐπέκειτο διὰ παντός. καὶ τὸ σῶμα, ὅσονπερ χρόνον καὶ ἡ νόσος ἀκμάζοι, οὐκ ἐμαραίνετο, ἀλλ’ ἀντεῖχε παρὰ δόξαν τῇ ταλαιπωρίᾳ, ὥστε ἢ διεφθείροντο οἱ πλεῖστοι ἐναταῖοι καὶ ἑβδομαῖοι ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐντὸς καύματος, ἔτι ἔχοντές τι δυνάμεως, ἢ εἰ διαφύγοιεν, ἐπικατιόντος τοῦ νοσήματος ἐς τὴν κοιλίαν καὶ ἑλκώσεώς τε αὐτῇ ἰσχυρᾶς ἐγγιγνομένης καὶ διαρροίας ἅμα ἀκράτου ἐπιπιπτούσης οἱ πολλοὶ ὕστερον δι’ αὐτὴν ἀσθενείᾳ διεφθείροντο. διεξῄει γὰρ διὰ παντὸς τοῦ σώματος ἄνωθεν ἀρξάμενον τὸ ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ πρῶτον ἱδρυθὲν κακόν, καὶ εἴ τις ἐκ τῶν μεγίστων περιγένοιτο, τῶν γε ἀκρωτηρίων ἀντίληψις αὐτοῦ ἐπεσήμαινεν. κατέσκηπτε γὰρ ἐς αἰδοῖα καὶ ἐς ἄκρας χεῖρας καὶ πόδας, καὶ πολλοὶ στερισκόμενοι τούτων διέφευγον, εἰσὶ δ’ οἳ καὶ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν. τοὺς δὲ καὶ λήθη ἐλάμβανε παραυτίκα ἀναστάντας τῶν πάντων ὁμοίως, καὶ ἠγνόησαν σφᾶς τε αὐτοὺς καὶ τοὺς ἐπιτηδείους. γενόμενον γὰρ κρεῖσσον λόγου τὸ εἶδος τῆς νόσου τά τε ἄλλα χαλεπωτέρως ἢ κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπείαν φύσιν προσέπιπτεν ἑκάστῳ καὶ ἐν τῷδε ἐδήλωσε μάλιστα ἄλλο τι ὂν ἢ τῶν ξυντρόφων τι· τὰ γὰρ ὄρνεα καὶ τετράποδα ὅσα ἀνθρώπων ἅπτεται, πολλῶν ἀτάφων γιγνομένων ἢ οὐ προσῄει ἢ γευσάμενα διεφθείρετο. τεκμήριον δέ· τῶν μὲν τοιούτων ὀρνίθων ἐπίλειψις σαφὴς ἐγένετο, καὶ οὐχ ἑωρῶντο οὔτε ἄλλως οὔτε περὶ τοιοῦτον οὐδέν· οἱ δὲ κύνες μᾶλλον αἴσθησιν παρεῖχον τοῦ ἀποβαίνοντος διὰ τὸ ξυνδιαιτᾶσθαι. τὸ μὲν οὖν νόσημα, πολλὰ καὶ ἄλλα παραλιπόντι ἀτοπίας, ὡς ἑκάστῳ ἐτύγχανέ τι διαφερόντως ἑτέρῳ πρὸς ἕτερον γιγνόμενον, τοιοῦτον ἦν ἐπὶ πᾶν τὴν ἰδέαν. καὶ ἄλλο παρελύπει κατ’ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον οὐδὲν τῶν εἰωθότων· ὃ δὲ καὶ γένοιτο, ἐς τοῦτο ἐτελεύτα. ἔθνῃσκον δὲ οἱ μὲν ἀμελείᾳ, οἱ δὲ καὶ πάνυ θεραπευόμενοι. ἕν τε οὐδὲ ἓν κατέστη ἴαμα ὡς εἰπεῖν ὅτι χρῆν προσφέροντας ὠφελεῖν· τὸ γάρ τῳ ξυνενεγκὸν ἄλλον τοῦτο ἔβλαπτεν. σῶμά τε αὔταρκες ὂν οὐδὲν διεφάνη πρὸς αὐτὸ ἰσχύος πέρι ἢ ἀσθενείας, ἀλλὰ πάντα ξυνῄρει καὶ τὰ πάσῃ διαίτῃ θεραπευόμενα. 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. 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. 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. καὶ ἐμακαρίζοντό τε ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων, καὶ αὐτοὶ τῷ παραχρῆμα περιχαρεῖ καὶ ἐς τὸν ἔπειτα χρόνον ἐλπίδος τι εἶχον κούφης μηδ’ ἂν ὑπ’ ἄλλου νοσήματός ποτε ἔτι διαφθαρῆναι.
(Thucydides, Hist. 2.49.6-2.51.6)
They were beset by a constant restlessness and by insomnia. The body did not waste away while their illness was at its height but was surprisingly resistant to the ordeal, so that most people died from the internal fever in six to eight days with some strength still left in them, but if they survived that and the disease descended to the bowels, simultaneously causing serious ulceration and acute diarrhoea, then many died later from the weakness so caused. For the illness spread through the whole body after starting at the top and establishing itself in the head, and even if anyone survived the most serious stages the assault on the extremities still left its mark. It struck the genitals and the fingers and toes, and many people escaped its clutches only with the loss of these parts—and in some cases their eyes too. Some suffered a total loss of memory straight after their recovery and no longer knew who they themselves or their friends were. Indeed the form the plague took defied all reason. When it attacked anyone it was beyond all human endurance and in one respect in particular it showed itself quite different from any of the more familiar diseases. Despite there being many unburied bodies the birds and animals which feed on human flesh either kept away from the corpses or if they started eating them died themselves. The evidence for this is that there was a marked absence of such birds, which were not to be seen at the bodies or anywhere else at all. The dogs on the other hand offered a better chance for one to observe the effects since they live alongside man. This, then, was the general character of the plague, leaving aside its many peculiarities in the different ways it affected different people.While it lasted there were none of the usual complaints, or if they did occur they ended up turning into this one. Some people died from neglect, others despite devoted care. Not a single remedy was found, one has to say, whose application guaranteed relief, since what helped one person harmed another. No one’s constitution was proof against it, regardless of their strength or weakness, but it swept them all away, whatever kind of care and treatment they had received. The most terrible thing of all in this affliction, however, was the sense of despair when someone realised that they were suffering from it; for then they immediately decided in their own minds that the outcome was hopeless and they were much more likely to give themselves up to it rather than resist. There was also the fact that one person would get infected as a result of caring for another so that they died in their droves like sheep, and this caused more deaths than anything else. If in their fear they were unwilling to go near each other they died alone (and many homes were emptied through the lack of someone to give care); but if they did make contact they lost their lives anyway, particularly those with pretensions to virtue, who were ashamed to spare themselves from visiting friends at a time when even the relatives were finally wearied of lamenting the dying, so overcome were they by the sheer weight of the disaster. Yet it was those who had survived the disease that showed most compassion for the sufferers, both because they knew from experience what it was like and because they were now feeling more confident about themselves—since the plague did not strike the same person twice, at least not fatally. These people were congratulated by others on their good fortune and in the exhilaration of the moment entertained the blithe hope that at no time in the future would they ever be killed by any other disease. (tr. Jeremy Mynott)