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Plague and Civilization

Plague and Civilization

The plague is a disease that raises its devouring and catastrophic head every so many decades and centuries, especially when humans violently disturb the natural world.

The 2020 plague is one of a variety of pandemic diseases that have afflicted humans for millennia, not necessarily with the same intensity or virulence.

The historical record of plagues is muddled. Like us, past societies under the existential stress of pandemics, failed to keep records, much less accurate records. In many instances, past and present, rulers, medical bureaucrats, and journalists subvert the truth. Political and economic oligarchs fight for survival and supremacy. The picture that survives death is distorted, exactly like the story victors tell after war.

The Plague Among the Greeks

The case of the plague in Greek history may still give us pose for reflection.

The Greeks gave diseases precise names. They called plague loimos (pestilence), nosos (disease, sorrow, suffering), and phthora (destruction, decay, mortality, death).

The plague made its first appearance among the Greeks as a weapon of divine wrath. God Apollo used the pestilence to punish the Greeks for offending his priest.

In the beginning of the first book of the Iliad of Homer, Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the Greek troops in the Trojan War, insulted the priest of Apollo by refusing to give back his daughter, whom he had captured in a raid. The priest knelt in front of Agamemnon and begged him to release his daughter. But Agamemnon told the priest to get out of his sight as quickly as he could, lest he lost his patience. The frighten priest run away from the Greek camp and went home. He immediately prayed to Apollo to punish the Greeks. He reminded the god he had built a temple to honor and worship him, offering him rich sacrifices. Make the Greeks pay for my tears, he appealed to Apollo.

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