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ANCIENT TEXTS AND RETROSPECTIVE DIAGNOSES
THE OBSCURE DISEASE WHICH RAGED IN THE ACHAEAN CAMP IN FRONT OF TROY, THE DISEASE OF THE HERO PHILOCTETES IN THE ISLAND OF LEMNOS, THE ANATOMIC REFERENCES IN HOMER'S ILIAD, THE DEATH OF HERACLES IN THE SOPHOCLEAN TRAGEDY, TRACHIS, THE MISTERIOUS DISEASE THAT RAGED IN ATHENS IN THE V CENTURY B. C.
with new original images
Since the origin, man had to fight against diseases. Man believed that diseases came from gods, however, a god gave men a weapon able to contrast it: the medicine. Aesculapius was the god of the health and recovery, educated by centaur Chiron, who taught him to recover all illnesses. The first physicians, recorded by Homer, were two of the Aesculapius' sons Podaleiros and Machaon. In Homer (VIII century b. C.), there are the most ancient medical references of the Western literature. In the first book of his famous poem, Iliad, the god Apollo, angry against Agamemnon, commander of the Achaean army, fighting a long war against the town of Troy, provoked an epidemic diseases in the camp of besiegers. In the second book, Homer tells the unfortunate case of the hero Philoctetes, who, bitten by a snake, had a wound in his foot. The wound then became painfull and malodorous. For this reason, Philoctetes was left by his fellows in the island of Lemnos. Three century later, the Greek tragedian Sophocles (V century b. C.) wrote a tragedy on Philoctetes' case. In Homer's Iliad, there are numerous anatomic references, whose precision is surprising, considering the age to which they date back. In Sophocles' Trachis, the death of Heracles is described; it was due to a poisoned (or infected) cloth, that his wife Deianira have given him, in an attempt to have again his love. At the exordium of the Peloponnesian War, a terrible epidemic raged in Athens; this disease, described by the Greek historian Thucydides, has not been yet identified.
Lessons from the past: HOMERIC TRAUMATOLOGY , an article by L. Lucchini on pathology at Homeric times in the journal DocMagazine (3, may-junr, 2005).
(open 14.03.2003 - updated 17.07.2005)
LinksHomer's Iliad and Odyssey: The great poems