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date: 25 March 2023



  • J. T. Vallance


Western literature begins with a *disease; in the first book of Homer'sIliad the god *Apollo (associated with the medical arts directly or through his Asclepiad progeny; see Asclepius) sends a plague on the Greeks camped before Troy to avenge Chryses' treatment at the hands of *Agamemnon. No attempt is made to treat the plague; the activity of doctors in the Homeric epics is generally limited to the treatment of wounds and injuries sustained in combat. Many later authorities (e.g. A. *Cornelius Celsus) argued that this was a sign of the high moral standards which then prevailed. If disease had its own moral force in literature—note, for example, Hesiod's account of diseases escaping from *Pandora's jar (Op.69–105), the role of illness and *deformity in the *Oedipus legends, in *Sophocles' Philoctetes, in Attic comedy, and down to the Roman Stoic (see Stoicism) disapproval of over-reliance on medical help—the status and social function of those who treated diseases was similarly a matter for moral ambivalence.


  • Science, Technology, and Medicine

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