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Account of the symptoms

The historian Thucydides, who catches and survives the plague in Athens in 430 BC, describes the suffering of the victims:

'People in perfect health suddenly began to have burning feelings in the head; their eyes became red and inflamed; inside their mouths there was bleeding from the throat and tongue. The next symptoms were sneezing and hoarseness of voice. Next the stomach was affected with stomach aches and with vomitings of every kind of bile that has been given a name by the medical profession. The skin broke out into small pustules and ulcers. People could not bear the touch even of the lightest clothing, but wanted to be completely naked. If the sick survived this critical period, the disease produced uncontrollable diarrhoea. Then it fastened upon the extremities of the body, affecting the genitals, fingers and toes. Some went blind. Some suffered from a total loss of memory. Though there were many dead bodies lying about unburied, the birds and animals that eat human flesh either did not come near them or, if they did taste the flesh, died of it afterwards.

The people who felt most pity for the sick and dying were those who had the plague and recovered from it. They knew what it was like and felt themselves to be safe, for no one caught the disease twice. Such people were so elated at their recovery that they fondly imagined they could never die of any other disease in the future.'

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War, translated Rex Warner, Penguin 1954, 1972, pages 152-3

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