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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book II   


great distress. In most cases also an ineffectual retching followed,
producing violent spasms, which in some cases ceased soon after, in
others much later. Externally the body was not very hot to the
touch, nor pale in its appearance, but reddish, livid, and breaking
out into small pustules and ulcers. But internally it burned so that
the patient could not bear to have on him clothing or linen even of
the very lightest description; or indeed to be otherwise than stark
naked. What they would have liked best would have been to throw
themselves into cold water; as indeed was done by some of the
neglected sick, who plunged into the rain-tanks in their agonies of
unquenchable thirst; though it made no difference whether they drank
little or much. Besides this, the miserable feeling of not being
able to rest or sleep never ceased to torment them. The body meanwhile
did not waste away so long as the distemper was at its height, but
held out to a marvel against its ravages; so that when they succumbed,
as in most cases, on the seventh or eighth day to the internal
inflammation, they had still some strength in them. But if they passed
this stage, and the disease descended further into the bowels,
inducing a violent ulceration there accompanied by severe diarrhoea,
this brought on a weakness which was generally fatal. For the disorder
first settled in the head, ran its course from thence through the
whole of the body, and, even where it did not prove mortal, it still
left its mark on the extremities; for it settled in the privy parts,
the fingers and the toes, and many escaped with the loss of these,
some too with that of their eyes. Others again were seized with an
entire loss of memory on their first recovery, and did not know either
themselves or their friends.
But while the nature of the distemper was such as to baffle all
description, and its attacks almost too grievous for human nature to
endure, it was still in the following circumstance that its difference
from all ordinary disorders was most clearly shown. All the birds
and beasts that prey upon human bodies, either abstained from touching
them (though there were many lying unburied), or died after tasting
them. In proof of this, it was noticed that birds of this kind
actually disappeared; they were not about the bodies, or indeed to
be seen at all. But of course the effects which I have mentioned could
best be studied in a domestic animal like the dog.
Such then, if we pass over the varieties of particular cases which
were many and peculiar, were the general features of the distemper.
Meanwhile the town enjoyed an immunity from all the ordinary
disorders; or if any case occurred, it ended in this. Some died in
neglect, others in the midst of every attention. No remedy was found
that could be used as a specific; for what did good in one case, did
harm in another. Strong and weak constitutions proved equally
incapable of resistance, all alike being swept away, although dieted
with the utmost precaution. By far the most terrible feature in the
malady was the dejection which ensued when any one felt himself
sickening, for the despair into which they instantly fell took away
their power of resistance, and left them a much easier prey to the
disorder; besides which, there was the awful spectacle of men dying
like sheep, through having caught the infection in nursing each other.
This caused the greatest mortality. On the one hand, if they were
afraid to visit each other, they perished from neglect; indeed many
houses were emptied of their inmates for want of a nurse: on the
other, if they ventured to do so, death was the consequence. This
was especially the case with such as made any pretensions to goodness:
honour made them unsparing of themselves in their attendance in
their friends' houses, where even the members of the family were at
last worn out by the moans of the dying, and succumbed to the force of
the disaster. Yet it was with those who had recovered from the disease
that the sick and the dying found most compassion. These knew what
it was from experience, and had now no fear for themselves; for the
same man was never attacked twice- never at least fatally. And such
persons not only received the congratulations of others, but

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