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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book II   


themselves also, in the elation of the moment, half entertained the
vain hope that they were for the future safe from any disease
whatsoever.
An aggravation of the existing calamity was the influx from the
country into the city, and this was especially felt by the new
arrivals. As there were no houses to receive them, they had to be
lodged at the hot season of the year in stifling cabins, where the
mortality raged without restraint. The bodies of dying men lay one
upon another, and half-dead creatures reeled about the streets and
gathered round all the fountains in their longing for water. The
sacred places also in which they had quartered themselves were full of
corpses of persons that had died there, just as they were; for as
the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of
them, became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or
profane. All the burial rites before in use were entirely upset, and
they buried the bodies as best they could. Many from want of the
proper appliances, through so many of their friends having died
already, had recourse to the most shameless sepultures: sometimes
getting the start of those who had raised a pile, they threw their own
dead body upon the stranger's pyre and ignited it; sometimes they
tossed the corpse which they were carrying on the top of another
that was burning, and so went off.
Nor was this the only form of lawless extravagance which owed its
origin to the plague. Men now coolly ventured on what they had
formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the
rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and
those who before had nothing succeeding to their property. So they
resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their
lives and riches as alike things of a day. Perseverance in what men
called honour was popular with none, it was so uncertain whether
they would be spared to attain the object; but it was settled that
present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honourable
and useful. Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain
them. As for the first, they judged it to be just the same whether
they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and
for the last, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his
offences, but each felt that a far severer sentence had been already
passed upon them all and hung ever over their heads, and before this
fell it was only reasonable to enjoy life a little.
Such was the nature of the calamity, and heavily did it weigh on the
Athenians; death raging within the city and devastation without. Among
other things which they remembered in their distress was, very
naturally, the following verse which the old men said had long ago
been uttered:

A Dorian war shall come and with it death.

So a dispute arose as to whether dearth and not death had not been the
word in the verse; but at the present juncture, it was of course
decided in favour of the latter; for the people made their
recollection fit in with their sufferings. I fancy, however, that if
another Dorian war should ever afterwards come upon us, and a dearth
should happen to accompany it, the verse will probably be read
accordingly. The oracle also which had been given to the
Lacedaemonians was now remembered by those who knew of it. When the
god was asked whether they should go to war, he answered that if
they put their might into it, victory would be theirs, and that he
would himself be with them. With this oracle events were supposed to
tally. For the plague broke out as soon as the Peloponnesians
invaded Attica, and never entering Peloponnese (not at least to an
extent worth noticing), committed its worst ravages at Athens, and
next to Athens, at the most populous of the other towns. Such was
the history of the plague.
After ravaging the plain, the Peloponnesians advanced into the

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