The History, 19.4

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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4But in the city, where the number of the corpses which lay scattered over the streets was too great for any one to perform the funeral rites over them, a pestilence was soon added to the other calamities of the citizens; the carcases becoming full of worms and corruption, from the evaporation caused by the heat, and the various diseases of the people; and here I will briefly explain whence diseases of this kind arise.

2Both philosophers and skilful physicians agree that excess of cold, or of heat, or of moisture, or of drought, all cause pestilences; on which account those who dwell in marshy or wet districts are subject to coughs and complaints in the eyes, and other similar maladies: on the other hand, those who dwell in hot climates are liable to fevers and inflammations. But since fire is the most powerful of all elements, so drought is the quickest at killing.

3On this account it is that when the Greeks were toiling at the ten years’ war, to prevent a foreigner from profiting by his violation of a royal marriage, a pestilence broke out among them, and numbers died by the darts of Apollo, who is the same as the Sun.

4Again, as Thucydides relates, that pestilence which at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war harassed the Athenians with a most cruel kind of sickness, came by slow steps from the burning plains of Ethiopia to Attica.

5Others maintain that the air and the water, becoming tainted by the smell of corpses, and similar things, takes away the healthiness of a place, or at all events that the sudden change of temperature brings forth slighter sicknesses.

6Some again affirm that the air becomes heavier by emanations from the earth, and kills some individuals by checking the perspiration of the body, for which reason we learn from Homer, that, besides men, the other living creatures also died; and we know by many instances, that in such plagues this does occur.

7Now the first species of pestilence is called pandemic; this causes those who live in dry places to be attacked by frequent heats. The second is called epidemic, which gets gradually more violent, dims the sight of the eyes, and awakens dangerous humours. The third is called lœmodes, which is also temporary, but still often kills with great rapidity.

8We were attacked by this deadly pestilence from the excessive heat, which our numbers aggravated, though but few died: and at last, on the night after the tenth day from the first attack, the heavy and dense air was softened by a little rain, and the health of the garrison was restored and preserved.

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