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Histories: [Excerpt]

Kraut, Bruce MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181dc67d4
Medicine and the Arts

Thucydides. Histories. II.48.3–49.7. Translated from the Greek by Bruce Kraut, MD, PhD. Reprinted with permission.

I leave it to each man at this point, whether layman or physician, to give his own opinion as to where this plague came from and to consider the most suitable explanation for how it had the power to cause such devastation. I shall simply lay out the facts, so that from my description future investigators will be given the tools to recognize the warning signs of this disease, in case it should ever befall mankind again. This I can do in detail, for not only did I witness the suffering of others, but I too contracted the disease.

The general consensus is that there was a marked dearth of all other sorts of illness that year; and if anyone did come down with something else first, it always devolved into this plague. Upon others it descended without prodrome; instead, they would suddenly go from perfect health to experiencing the first symptoms: powerful burning sensations in the head, and redness and inflammation of the eyes; internally they quickly developed hemorrhaging of the throat and tongue, and they emitted a uniquely malodorous breath. After this came sneezing and laryngitis, and shortly thereafter the malady descended into the chest and produced severe coughing. When it settled in the stomach, it would cause such upset there as to purge one of every sort of bile to which the doctors have given a name, and with tremendous physical pain. This was followed in most of the victims by dry heaves, engendering intense spasms, which for some ended after this phase of the illness, but for others not till much later on. Furthermore, from external examination, the body was not very warm to the touch, nor was it pale in color, but rather somewhat reddish, or livid, and broken out in small pustules and ulcerations. Internally, however, they felt as though they were on fire… . Most of these victims died on the seventh or eighth day as a result of this burning on the inside, even though they were not completely debilitated; but if they got past this stage of the illness, the disease would then descend into the intestines, causing deep ulceration and paroxysmal, non-homogeneous diarrhea, which resulted in such weakness that most of them eventually died from this. For, you see, the malady, after first settling in the head, moved from top to bottom encompassing the entire body… .

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges