In the fifth century B.C.E., the City of Athens was laid low with a terrible plague that killed many of the Ancient Greek city’s citizens. In 1998, researchers extracted dental pulp from bodies found in an ancient cemetery unearthed during excavations for the 2004 Olympics. The researchers were able to identify the disease that laid ancient Athens low as typhoid fever. The plague had a profound effect on Greek culture, and became a touchstone theme for Greek playwrights, including Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
Joel Christensen is a classical scholar at Brandeis University, and the author of the “Many Minded Man,” an exploration of Homer’s Odyssey. Christensen argues that the Ancient Greeks’ dramatic tradition of catharsis can help modern society deal with similar plagues, such as the Coronavirus pandemic.
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Image: Jean-Joseph Taillasson – “Achilles Displaying the Body of Hector at the Feet of Patroclus” (CC-Zero) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons