Thucydides offers us a description of a city-state in crisis that is as poignant and powerful now, as it was in 430 B.C.
By Chris Mackie, Professor of Classics, La Trobe University
Thucydides’ account of the plague that struck Athens in 430 B.C. focuses on the social response, both of those who died and those who survived.
The coronavirus is concentrating our minds on the fragility of human existence in the face of a deadly disease. Words like “epidemic” and “pandemic” (and “panic”!) have become part of our daily discourse.
These words are Greek in origin, and they point to the fact that the Greeks of antiquity thought a lot about disease, both in its purely medical sense, and as a metaphor for the broader conduct of human affairs. What the Greeks called the “plague” (loimos) features in some memorable passages in Greek literature.