Please note: These papers were prepared for the Greek Science course taught at Tufts University by Prof. Gregory Crane in the spring of 1995. The Perseus Project does not and has not edited these student papers. We assume no responsibility over the content of these papers: we present them as is as a part of the course, not as documents in the Perseus Digital Library. We do not have contact information for the authors. Please keep that in mind while reading these papers.
The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the extent to which Thucydides is representative of Greek science and of the prevailing medical theory of his day, the Hippocratic theory of medicine. Greek science will be defined according to the three-part definition discussed in class:
- high fever
- vomiting of bile
- extreme thirst
- swollen lymph nodes/buboes
- petachiae - black spots on the skin that are actually hemorrhages under the skin
Holladay and Poole evaluate the various plague diagnoses that have been offered in their article "Thucydides and the Plague of Athens"(Classics Quarterly. 1977 p. 282-300) They emphasize that we may never know the nature of the plague, because the symptoms of the disease may have mutated over time, or because the disease may not currently exist.
- by describing how the moral standards of the community, based upon a belief in the gods, fell into decay
- by describing how the disease attacked even those who had supplicated the gods asking to be spared from the disease
In his account of the plague Thucydides relies upon the prevailing medical theory of the day, Hippocratic theory, in order to describe the course of the disease. Followers of this theory believed that disease was influenced by several factors, such as the time of year when the disease struck. For example, the very same symptoms of illness would be seen by a Hippocratic physician as a different disease depending upon the season of the year in which you became ill. Notice that Thucydides also records the prognosis of the plague, ie, the course of the disease (what to expect by a certain date); this is also typical of the Hippocratic tradition.