Department of History
University of California, Irvine
Instructor: Dr. Barbara J. Becker
|Supplementary readings for Week 1's lectures include excerpts
The Greek historian, Thucydides, was both an observer and a surviving victim of the deadly epidemic that struck Athens in 430 BCE. His chilling eyewitness account brings to life the terror he and his fellow Athenians experienced.
A half-millennium later, the Greek biographer Plutarch, retold the poignant tale of the death of Pericles -- the plague of Athens' most famous victim. In doing so, he put a human face on an event far-removed from the life and times of his readers.
Thucydides lived at a time when Greek intellectuals -- theoreticians and practitioners alike -- were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with supernatural explanations of natural phenomena. The Hippocratic writings betray this shift in thinking. The identity of the author(s) of these works is shrouded in mystery. Whoever wrote On Airs, Waters, and Places and Of the Epidemics viewed humans and the diseases that infect them as fixtures in the natural world, entities subject to the rule of natural law, not divine intervention.
A thousand years after the plague of Athens, another major epidemic threatened -- in the words of the Byzantine historian, Procopius -- to annihilate the "whole human race."
How does Procopius's first-hand account compare with those of Thucydides and Plutarch?