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Thucydides and the and the plague of athens
Thucydides was the world’s first historian. Presently, we get most of our knowledge about ancient Greece from his writing. But Thucydides didn’t just write about history, he lived through it. However, he almost didn’t survive one historical event, the Plague of Athens.
In 430 BCE, an army attacked the city of Athens, where Thucydides lived. Thousands of people hid from the army behind Athen’s large walls. The city became very crowded as the population expanded. Then, a horrifying disease broke out. People summoned doctors. But it was to no avail because no one understood how the disease spread. It seemed random.
They didn’t know that it was an organism. Instead, they defined disease as a punishment from their gods. Thucydides was incredulous that the gods caused the plague, but he explained why others believed it. There was an old, long verse which predicted the disease. To paraphrase it, the verse said the gods would send a disease during a war. As a result, large crowds gathered at shrines to ask the gods to stop the plague.
But the situation only worsened because these people were so close to each other they became sick. That’s how they learned a fundamental lesson about the plague, it spread from person to person.
People wanted to leave the crowded city, but they dreaded what the army outside would do to them. At this time, Thucydides got sick, too. He quickly scribbled down notes because he thought he would soon die. His writing shows the stark contrast between people’s behavior before and during the plague. There were riots, and people ignored laws. They didn’t think they’d live long enough to be punished. Many sick people were left to die in solitude because no one wanted to be near them. The plague lingered for two years. But Iuckily, Thucydides survived. Without his writing, we would know much less about ancient Greece and the Plague of Athens.
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