Laberium asperae libertatis equitem Romanum Caesar quingentis milibus invitavit ut prodiret in scaenam et ipse ageret mimos quos scriptitabat. sed potestas non solum si invitet sed et si supplicet cogit, unde se et Laberius a Caesare coactum in prologo testatur his versibus:
‘Necessitas, cuius cursus transversi impetum
voluerunt multi effugere, pauci potuerunt,
quo me detrusti paene extremis sensibus!
quem nulla ambitio, nulla quem largitio,
nullus timor, vis nulla, nulla auctoritas
movere potuit in iuventa de statu,
ecce in senecta ut facile labefecit loco
viri excellentis mente clemente edita
submissa placide blandiloquens oratio!
etenim ipsi di negare cui nil potuerunt
hominem me denegare quis posset pati?
ego, bis tricenis annis actis sine nota,
eques Romanus e lare egressus meo,
domum revertar mimus. nimirum hoc die
uno plus vixi mihi quam vivendum fuit.
Fortuna, immoderata in bono aeque atque in malo,
si tibi erat libitum litterarum laudibus
florens cacumen nostrae famae frangere,
cur cum vigebam membris praeviridantibus
satisfacere populo et tali cum poteram viro
non flexibilem me concurvasti ut carperes?
nuncin me deicis? quo? quid ad scaenam affero?
decorem formae an dignitatem corporis,
animi virtutem an vocis iucundae sonum?
ut hedera serpens vires arboreas necat
ita me vetustas amplexu annorum enecat:
sepulchri similis nil nisi nomen retineo.’ [Laberius, fr. 90]
In ipsa quoque actione subinde se, qua poterat, ulciscebatur, inducto habitu Syri, qui velut flagris caesus praeripientique se similis exclamabat:
‘porro, Quirites, libertatem perdimus,’ [Laberius, fr. 91]
et paulo post adiecit,
‘necesse est multos timeat quem multi timent.’ [Laberius, fr. 92]
quo dicto universitas populi ad solum Caesarem oculos et ora convertit, notantes impotentiam eius hac dicacitate lapidatam. ob haec in Publilium vertit favorem.(Macrobius, Sat. 2.7.2-5)

Laberius was a harsh and outspoken Roman knight, whom Caesar for a fee of 500,000 sesterces invited to appear on the stage and to act in person in the mimes which he was always writing. But a potentate’s invitation, or even his mere request, in effect amounts to compulsion; and so it is that Laberius, in the prologue to his play, testifies to the fact that he has been compelled by Caesar with the following lines:
‘Necessity, whose slanting onslaught
many have wished, but few have been able to escape,
to what corner have you forced me almost at the end of my faculties!
No canvassing, no bribery,
no intimidation, no violence, no pressure
could ever shift me from my station in my prime;
behold in age how easily an outstanding man’s words
expressed in gentle spirit, words quietly spoken,
conciliatory nice-sounding words, have toppled me from my place!
For indeed who would be able to tolerate me,
a human, refusing him to whom the very gods have not been able to refuse anything?
I, twice thirty years spent without reproach,
having set forth from my hearth a Roman knight,
shall return home as a comic. Evidently this day
I have lived one more than I ever should have lived.
Fortune, immoderate in good and ill alike,
if it was already your fancy to snap
my reputation’s tip when it blossomed with literary praise,
why did you not bend me to pick when still resilient,
when I had the power with limbs budding at the tip
to please the Roman People and would have been able to please such a man?
Is it now that you cast me down? For what? What have I to offer the theatre?
My grace of form, or my impressive presence?
My manliness of spirit, or the sound of my melodious voice?
As creeping ivy throttles the strength of trees,
so Old Age throttles me with her embrace of years;
and like the tomb, I retain nothing but my name.’
Moreover, during the performance of the play, he was continuously taking his revenge, however he could; dressed as a Syrian, who pretended that he had been flogged, and looked like a runaway slave, he would cry out:
‘furthermore, Roman citizens, we are losing our liberty.’
And after a while he added:
‘he whom many fear must inevitably fear many.’
At the sound of these words everyone in the audience turned their eyes and faces on Caesar alone, observing that his immoderate behaviour had received a fatal blow with this caustic gibe. Because of this Caesar transferred his support to Publilius.
(tr. Costas Panayotakis; fr. 90 tr. Adrian S. Gratwick)



Tum secreta trahens Phoebeum ad litora Mopsum
‘quaenam’ ait ‘ista lues aut quae sententia divum?
decretusne venit fato pavor an sibi nectunt
corda moras? cur immemores famaeque larisque
angimur aut pariet quemnam haec ignavia finem?’
‘Dicam’ ait ‘ac penitus causas labemque docebo.’
Mopsus et astra tuens: ‘non si mortalia membra
sortitusque breves et parvi tempora fati
perpetimur, socius superi quondam ignis Olympi,
fas ideo miscere neces ferroque morantes
exigere hinc animas redituraque semina caelo.
quippe nec in ventos nec in ultima solvimur ossa;
ira manet duratque dolor. cum deinde tremendi
ad solium venere Iovis questuque nefandam
edocuere necem, patet ollis ianua leti
atque iterum remeare licet. comes una sororum
additur et pariter terras atque aequora lustrant.
quisque suos sontes inimicaque pectora poenis
implicat et varia meritos formidine pulsant.
at quibus invito maduerunt sanguine dextrae,
si fors saeva tulit miseros, sed proxima culpa,
hos variis mens ipsa modis agit et sua carpunt
facta viros: resides et iam nil amplius ausi
in lacrimas humilesque metus aegramque fatiscunt
segnitiem, quos ecce vides. sed nostra requiret
cura viam. memori iam pridem cognita vati
est procul ad Stygiae devexa silentia noctis
Cimmerium domus et superis incognita tellus
caeruleo tenebrosa situ, quo flammea numquam
Sol iuga sidereos nec mittit Iuppiter annos.
stant tacitae frondes immotaque silva comanti
horret Averna iugo. specus umbrarumque meatus
subter et Oceani praeceps fragor arvaque nigro
vasta metu et subitae post longa silentia voces.
ensifer hic atraque sedens in veste Celaeneus
insontes errore luit culpamque remittens
carmina turbatos volvit placantia manes.
ille mihi quae danda forent lustramina caesis
prodidit, ille volens Erebum tenebrasque retexit.
ergo ubi puniceas oriens accenderit undas,
te socios adhibere sacris armentaque magnis
bina deis, me iam coetus accedere vestros
haud fas interea, donec lustralia pernox
vota fero. movet en gelidos Latonia currus:
flecte gradum, placitis sileant age litora coeptis!’
(Valerius Flaccus, Arg. 3.373-416)

Then, drawing Mopsus, the seer of Phoebus, to a sequestered region of the shore, “What means,” he asks, “this plague, or what is the mind of the gods? Is it by fate’s decree this terror comes? or do hearts contrive their own anxieties? Why forgetful of home and renown do we suffer anguish, or what end will this faint-heartedness bring to pass?” “I will tell thee,” said Mopsus, “and wholly explain the causes of this plague;” then, looking at the stars, “If we, who once were fire and high Olympus’ kin, suffer mortal frames and brief apportionments and a short span of destiny, it is not therefore right to engage in reckless slaughter and to drive hence with the sword souls that yet would tarry, and seeds that will one day return to heaven; for we are not dissolved into the breezes or into mere bones at the last: anger abides and grief endures. Thereafter when they are come to the throne of awful Jove and have set forth all the sorrowful story of their dreadful end, the gate of death is opened for them and they may return a second time; one of the Sisters is given them as a companion, and they range together over lands and seas. Each involves in penalties the guilty souls of his own foes; they rack them with various terrors after their deserving. But those whose hands have dripped with blood unwillingly—or were it cruel mischance, though nigh to guilt, that swept away the wretches—these men their own minds harry in divers ways, and their own deeds vex the doers; languid now and ventureless they decline into tears and spiritless alarms and sickly sloth: such thou doest here behold. Yet shall my thoughtful care seek out a way. Known long since to the unforgetting seer there lies, where afar the land slopes down to silence and Stygian night, the abode of the Cimmerians, a region that the Olympians know not, a land dark and desolate gloom, where the Sun never drives his flaming car and Jupiter sends not the star-appointed seasons. Soundless and still are all the branches, motionless and stark on the luxuriant ridges stand the vernal woods; below is a cavern and the winding way of the spirits and Ocean’s headlong crash, waste stretches of black dread and after long silences sudden cries. Here Celaeneus, sitting sable-shrouded and sword in hand, cleanses the innocent from their error, and remitting their fault unwinds a spell to appease the angry shades. He it was who taught me what lustrations should be made to the slain, he of his good pleasure opened the earth to Erebus below. When therefore the orient sets the crimson seas aflame, do thou summon thy comrades to the sacrifice, and bring two steers to the mighty gods; for me were it wrong meanwhile to approach your gathering, until I spend the night in cleansing prayers. Lo! Latonia’s cold chariot is on its way; turn thy steps, and see that the shores are silent for thy placating deeds.” (tr. John Henry Mozley)



Sed nos fideli contuentes lumine
retroacta vel praesentia humani status
miramur opera conditoris ardui
et praeparatos a vetustis saeculis
successionum mysticarum lineis
pios stupemus impiorum filios;
tamen in tenebris impiarum mentium
lucis videmus emicasse semina
in tempore ipso noctis antiquae sitis,
quibus probata quamlibet gentilibus
mens et voluntas lege naturae fuit.
(Paulinus, Carm. 21.228-238)

Yet as we gaze with the eyes of faith on the past and present history of the human condition, we marvel at the achievements of that lofty founder, and we are in awe of the holy sons of such ungodly forbears, designedly derived from that ancient era by a descent of mystical succession. In the darkness of those unholy minds we see that seeds of light gleamed forth from en embedded in the very era of that ancient darkness; though they were pagans, their minds and wills were tested by nature’s law. (tr. Marc Mastrangelo)



Καὶ μήτ’ ἄλουτος γαυρία σύ, μήτ’ ὕδωρ
θαύμαζε, μηδὲ κουρία γενειάδα,
μηδὲ ῥύπῳ χιτῶνος ἔντυε χρόα.
(Semonides, fr. 10a)

Don’t take pride in being unwashed, don’t stand in awe of water, don’t let your beard need trimming, and don’t deck out your body in a filthy tunic. (tr. Douglas E. Gerber)


plague of Athens

This is part 3 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

Ἐπίεσε δ’ αὐτοὺς μᾶλλον πρὸς τῷ ὑπάρχοντι πόνῳ καὶ ἡ ξυγκομιδὴ ἐκ τῶν ἀγρῶν ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, καὶ οὐχ ἧσσον τοὺς ἐπελθόντας. οἰκιῶν γὰρ οὐχ ὑπαρχουσῶν, ἀλλ’ ἐν καλύβαις πνιγηραῖς ὥρᾳ ἔτους διαιτωμένων ὁ φθόρος ἐγίγνετο οὐδενὶ κόσμῳ, ἀλλὰ καὶ νεκροὶ ἐπ’ ἀλλήλοις ἀποθνῄσκοντες ἔκειντο καὶ ἐν ταῖς ὁδοῖς ἐκαλινδοῦντο καὶ περὶ τὰς κρήνας ἁπάσας ἡμιθνῆτες τοῦ ὕδατος ἐπιθυμίᾳ. τά τε ἱερὰ ἐν οἷς ἐσκήνηντο νεκρῶν πλέα ἦν, αὐτοῦ ἐναποθνῃσκόντων· ὑπερβιαζομένου γὰρ τοῦ κακοῦ οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὐκ ἔχοντες ὅτι γένωνται, ἐς ὀλιγωρίαν ἐτράποντο καὶ ἱερῶν καὶ ὁσίων ὁμοίως. νόμοι τε πάντες ξυνεταράχθησαν οἷς ἐχρῶντο πρότερον περὶ τὰς ταφάς, ἔθαπτον δὲ ὡς ἕκαστος ἐδύνατο. καὶ πολλοὶ ἐς ἀναισχύντους θήκας ἐτράποντο σπάνει τῶν ἐπιτηδείων διὰ τὸ συχνοὺς ἤδη προτεθνάναι σφίσιν· ἐπὶ πυρὰς γὰρ ἀλλοτρίας φθάσαντες τοὺς νήσαντας οἱ μὲν ἐπιθέντες τὸν ἑαυτῶν νεκρὸν ὑφῆπτον, οἱ δὲ καιομένου ἄλλου ἐπιβαλόντες ἄνωθεν ὃν φέροιεν ἀπῇσαν.
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. καὶ τὸ μὲν προσταλαιπωρεῖν τῷ δόξαντι καλῷ οὐδεὶς πρόθυμος ἦν, ἄδηλον νομίζων εἰ πρὶν ἐπ’ αὐτὸ ἐλθεῖν διαφθαρήσεται· ὅτι δὲ ἤδη τε ἡδὺ πανταχόθεν τε ἐς αὐτὸ κερδαλέον, τοῦτο καὶ καλὸν καὶ χρήσιμον κατέστη. θεῶν δὲ φόβος ἢ ἀνθρώπων νόμος οὐδεὶς ἀπεῖργε, τὸ μὲν κρίνοντες ἐν ὁμοίῳ καὶ σέβειν καὶ μὴ ἐκ τοῦ πάντας ὁρᾶν ἐν ἴσῳ ἀπολλυμένους, τῶν δὲ ἁμαρτημάτων οὐδεὶς ἐλπίζων μέχρι τοῦ δίκην γενέσθαι βιοὺς ἂν τὴν τιμωρίαν ἀντιδοῦναι, πολὺ δὲ μείζω τὴν ἤδη κατεψηφισμένην σφῶν ἐπικρεμασθῆναι, ἣν πρὶν ἐμπεσεῖν εἰκὸς εἶναι τοῦ βίου τι ἀπολαῦσαι.
τοιούτῳ μὲν πάθει οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι περιπεσόντες ἐπιέζοντο, ἀνθρώπων τ’ ἔνδον θνῃσκόντων καὶ γῆς ἔξω δῃουμένης. ἐν δὲ τῷ κακῷ οἷα εἰκὸς ἀνεμνήσθησαν καὶ τοῦδε τοῦ ἔπους, φάσκοντες οἱ πρεσβύτεροι πάλαι ᾁδεσθαι “ἥξει Δωριακὸς πόλεμος καὶ λοιμὸς ἅμ’ αὐτῷ.”
ἐγένετο μὲν οὖν ἔρις τοῖς ἀνθρώποις μὴ λοιμὸν ὠνομάσθαι ἐν τῷ ἔπει ὑπὸ τῶν παλαιῶν, ἀλλὰ λιμόν, ἐνίκησε δὲ ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος εἰκότως λοιμὸν εἰρῆσθαι· οἱ γὰρ ἄνθρωποι πρὸς ἃ ἔπασχον τὴν μνήμην ἐποιοῦντο. ἢν δέ γε οἶμαί ποτε ἄλλος πόλεμος καταλάβῃ Δωρικὸς τοῦδε ὕστερος καὶ ξυμβῇ γενέσθαι λιμόν, κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς οὕτως ᾁσονται. μνήμη δὲ ἐγένετο καὶ τοῦ Λακεδαιμονίων χρηστηρίου τοῖς εἰδόσιν, ὅτε ἐπερωτῶσιν αὐτοῖς τὸν θεὸν εἰ χρὴ πολεμεῖν ἀνεῖλε κατὰ κράτος πολεμοῦσι νίκην ἔσεσθαι, καὶ αὐτὸς ἔφη ξυλλήψεσθαι. περὶ μὲν οὖν τοῦ χρηστηρίου τὰ γιγνόμενα ᾔκαζον ὁμοῖα εἶναι· ἐσβεβληκότων δὲ τῶν Πελοποννησίων ἡ νόσος ἤρξατο εὐθύς, καὶ ἐς μὲν Πελοπόννησον οὐκ ἐσῆλθεν, ὅτι καὶ ἄξιον εἰπεῖν, ἐπενείματο δὲ Ἀθήνας μὲν μάλιστα, ἔπειτα δὲ καὶ τῶν ἄλλων χωρίων τὰ πολυανθρωπότατα. ταῦτα μὲν τὰ κατὰ τὴν νόσον γενόμενα.
(Thucydides, Hist. 2.52-2.54)

Their general misery was aggravated by people crowding into the city from the fields, and the worst affected were the new arrivals. There were no houses for them but they lived in huts that were stifling in the heat of summer and they were visited by death in conditions of total disorder. The bodies of those dying were heaped on each other, and in the streets and around the springs half-dead people reeled about in a desperate desire for water. The sanctuaries in which they had taken shelter were full of the bodies of those who had died there. Overwhelmed by the disaster people could not see what was to become of them and started losing respect for the laws of god and man alike. All the funeral customs they usually observed were cast into confusion and each buried their dead as best they could. Many people resorted to quite shameless forms of disposal through their lack of means after so many of their relatives had already died. They took advantage of the funeral pyres others had raised, and some of them would move in first, place their own dead on the pyre and set fire to it, while others threw whoever’s body they were carrying on top of one that was already burning and went away. It was the plague that first led to other forms of lawlessness in the city too. People were emboldened to indulge themselves in ways they would previously have concealed, since they saw the rapid change in fortunes – both for those who were well off and died suddenly and for those who originally had nothing but in a moment got possession of the property of these others. They therefore resolved to exploit these opportunities for enjoyment quickly, regarding their lives and their property as equally ephemeral. No one was eager to add to their own hardships for supposedly fine objectives, since they were uncertain whether they would die before achieving them. Whatever gave immediate pleasure or in any way facilitated it became the standard of what was good and useful. Neither fear of the gods nor law of man was any restraint: they judged it made no difference whether or not they showed them respect, seeing that everyone died just the same; on the contrary, no one expected to live long enough to go on trial and pay the penalty, feeling that a far worse sentence had already been passed and was hanging over their heads, and that it was only reasonable to get some enjoyment from life before it finally fell on them. Such was the burden of suffering the Athenians bore, with people dying inside the city and their land ravaged outside it. And in their distress they not surprisingly remembered the following verse, which the old men claimed had been recited long ago, ‘A Dorian war shall come and with it plague.’ There was some disagreement among them as to whether the word used by the men of old was not ‘plague’ but ‘famine’, but in the present circumstances the view naturally prevailed that it was ‘plague’, as people matched their memories to their sufferings. I fancy at any rate that if another Dorian war should visit them after this one and if that were accompanied by a famine they would probably recite the verse that way. There were those who also recalled an oracle given to the Spartans when the Spartans asked the god whether they should go to war and he answered that victory would be theirs if they fought with all their might and promised that he would himself take their side. They therefore supposed that what then happened was the fulfilment of the oracle, and indeed the plague did begin straight after the invasion of the Peloponnesians; and although it did not get into the Peloponnese to any significant extent, it invaded Athens in particular and after that other densely populated areas elsewhere. These were the occurrences relating to the plague. (tr. Jeremy Mynott)


Stanley Meltzoff, The plague in Athens, 1963
Stanley Meltzoff, The plague in Athens, 1963

This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.

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)


Michiel Sweerts, De pest in Athene, ca. 1652-54
Michiel Sweerts, De pest in Athene, ca. 1652-54

This is part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

Τοῦ δὲ θέρους εὐθὺς ἀρχομένου Πελοποννήσιοι καὶ οἱ ξύμμαχοι τὰ δύο μέρη ὥσπερ καὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἐσέβαλον ἐς τὴν Ἀττικήν (ἡγεῖτο δὲ Ἀρχίδαμος ὁ Ζευξιδάμου Λακεδαιμονίων βασιλεύς), καὶ καθεζόμενοι ἐδῄουν τὴν γῆν. 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. 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.
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.  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. 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. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔτος, ὡς ὡμολογεῖτο, ἐκ πάντων μάλιστα δὴ ἐκεῖνο ἄνοσον ἐς τὰς ἄλλας ἀσθενείας ἐτύγχανεν ὄν· εἰ δέ τις καὶ προύκαμνέ τι, ἐς τοῦτο πάντα ἀπεκρίθη. τοὺς δὲ ἄλλους ἀπ’ οὐδεμιᾶς προφάσεως, ἀλλ’ ἐξαίφνης ὑγιεῖς ὄντας πρῶτον μὲν τῆς κεφαλῆς θέρμαι ἰσχυραὶ καὶ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐρυθήματα καὶ φλόγωσις ἐλάμβανε, καὶ τὰ ἐντός, ἥ τε φάρυγξ καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα, εὐθὺς αἱματώδη ἦν καὶ πνεῦμα ἄτοπον καὶ δυσῶδες ἠφίει· ἔπειτα ἐξ αὐτῶν πταρμὸς καὶ βράγχος ἐπεγίγνετο, καὶ ἐν οὐ πολλῷ χρόνῳ κατέβαινεν ἐς τὰ στήθη ὁ πόνος μετὰ βηχὸς ἰσχυροῦ· καὶ ὁπότε ἐς τὴν καρδίαν στηρίξειεν, ἀνέστρεφέ τε αὐτὴν καὶ ἀποκαθάρσεις χολῆς πᾶσαι ὅσαι ὑπὸ ἰατρῶν ὠνομασμέναι εἰσὶν ἐπῇσαν, καὶ αὗται μετὰ ταλαιπωρίας μεγάλης. λύγξ τε τοῖς πλέοσιν ἐνέπιπτε κενή, σπασμὸν ἐνδιδοῦσα ἰσχυρόν, τοῖς μὲν μετὰ ταῦτα λωφήσαντα, τοῖς δὲ καὶ πολλῷ ὕστερον. καὶ τὸ μὲν ἔξωθεν ἁπτομένῳ σῶμα οὔτ᾽ ἄγαν θερμὸν ἦν οὔτε χλωρόν, ἀλλ’ ὑπέρυθρον, πελιτνόν, φλυκταίναις μικραῖς καὶ ἕλκεσιν ἐξηνθηκός· τὰ δὲ ἐντὸς οὕτως ἐκάετο ὥστε μήτε τῶν πάνυ λεπτῶν ἱματίων καὶ σινδόνων τὰς ἐπιβολὰς μηδ’ ἄλλο τι ἢ γυμνοὶ ἀνέχεσθαι, ἥδιστά τε ἂν ἐς ὕδωρ ψυχρὸν σφᾶς αὐτοὺς ῥίπτειν. καὶ πολλοὶ τοῦτο τῶν ἠμελημένων ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἔδρασαν ἐς φρέατα, τῇ δίψῃ ἀπαύστῳ ξυνεχόμενοι· καὶ ἐν τῷ ὁμοίῳ καθειστήκει τό τε πλέον καὶ ἔλασσον ποτόν.
(Thucydides, Hist. 2.47.2-2.49.5)

As soon as summer began the Peloponnesians and their allies, under the leadership of Archidamus, son of Zeuxidamus and king of the Spartans, invaded Attica with two-thirds of their forces just as they had done the year before. They established themselves and set about wasting the land. They had not been there many days when the plague first broke out among the Athenians, and although it is said to have struck in many places before, particularly at Lemnos but also elsewhere, there is no previous record anywhere of a pestilence so severe and so destructive to human life. The physicians were not able to help at its outset since they were treating it in ignorance, and indeed they themselves suffered the highest mortality since they were the ones most exposed to it. Nor were other human arts of any avail. Whatever supplications people made at sanctuaries and whatever oracles or the like they consulted, all were useless and in the end they abandoned them, defeated by the affliction. It first came, so it is said, out of Ethiopia beyond Egypt, and then spread into Egypt and Libya and into most of the territory of the Persian King.When it got to Athens it struck the city suddenly, taking hold first in the Peiraeus, so that it was even suggested by the people there that the Peloponnesians had put poison in the rain-water tanks (there being no wells yet in the Peiraeus). Later on it reached the upper city too and then the mortality became much greater. I leave it to others—whether physicians or lay people—to speak from their own knowledge about it and say what its likely origins were and what factors could be powerful enough to generate such disruptive effects. For my part I will say what it was like as it happened and will describe the facts that would enable anyone investigating any future outbreak to have some prior knowledge and recognise it. I speak as someone who had the disease myself and witnessed others suffering from it. This particular year, it was generally agreed, happened to be exceptionally free from other forms of illness; but if anyone did suffer anything at all it always turned into this disease. In other cases there was no apparent reason for it, but suddenly people who were previously healthy were affected by sensations of violent fever in the head and a redness and inflammation of the eyes; internally, both the throat and the tongue immediately became bloody and emitted an unnatural and foul-smelling breath. At the next stage the victims suffered an onset of sneezing and hoarseness, and soon afterwards the affliction went to the chest, accompanied by violent coughing; when it took hold in the stomach it caused severe upset there, and every kind of bile that has been named by physicians was discharged, attended by extreme distress. In most cases an empty retching ensued, producing violent spasms, in some cases straight after the emissions had ceased, in others much later. Externally, the body was not particularly hot to the touch nor pale but was reddish and livid, breaking out in small blisters and sores; internally, however, sufferers were on fire and could not bear contact with the lightest of clothing and linens or anything other than going naked, and what they most felt like was throwing themselves into cold water. Indeed many who were not being looked after actually did so, jumping into rain-tanks, possessed by a thirst that could not be quenched—since it made no difference whether they drank much or little. (tr. Jeremy Mynott)