Thursday, 23 October 2014
Wisdom and plagues
A Spanish website quotes from my account of a devastating plague that hit Rome in the second half of the 2nd century AD in my Disastrous History of the World.
One of those carried off by the epidemic, which raged for 15 years, was the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The historian Edward Gibbon considered him the last great Roman emperor before the rot set in, and begins his famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with Marcus Aurelius's death. (It is also the starting point for the film, Gladiator.)
The emperor refused to see his son before he died in case he passed on the sickness, and his last words were: 'Weep not for me; think rather of the deaths of so many others.' This philosopher emperor had already written in his Meditations that the pestilence was less deadly than falsehood and evil conduct.
One thing we are not sure of is what exactly the disease was. It used to be thought that it was bubonic plague, but some scholars now believe it was smallpox.