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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/591

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581
THE BUBONIC PLAGUE.

Samuel I, Chapter 5, paragraphs 6, 9). The latter especially deals with the plague which attacked the Philistines after they took the ark. The rĂ´le of rats in the dissemination of the disease is, as some believe, apparently referred to in the trespass offering of "five golden emerods and five golden mice." The return of the ark, together with this trespass offering, brought also the plague, "because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even He smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men." Poussin's painting of this Philistine plague, exhibited in the Louvre, shows several dead rats on the streets. It is evident that the susceptibility of the rat to the plague had been noticed even at this early date. The plague of boils visited upon the Egyptians as related in Exodus (Chapter 9, paragraphs 9 and 10) has also been taken to indicate the pest of to-day, but neither of these scriptural references can be said to be sufficiently definite.

The Attic plague, which ravaged the Peloponnesus 430 years before Christ, has been accurately described by an eye-witness, the historian Thucydides. His narration may be considered the earliest exact record of an epidemic. Like all the great epidemics of subsequent ages, it was ushered in by the overcrowding, the misery and the famine consequent upon prolonged wars. The combustible material was there, and all that was necessary was the spark to begin the work of death and devastation. It is noteworthy that the origin of the pest was traced by Thucydides to Egypt or Ethiopia, from whence it spread gradually overland to Asia Minor and thence by boat to Athens. The nature of this first great historic epidemic is and will remain uncertain. There are those who consider the Attic pestilence as one of bubonic plague, but the fact that in the very careful description of the disease no mention is made of buboes and the statement that death occurred from the seventh to the ninth day would indicate that the disease was something else. Buboes are characteristic, it is true, of the plague, but it should be remembered that outbreaks of the pneumonic form, with little or no glandular enlargement, are not uncommon. Death, however, in the case of plague is very common on the second or third day, and is less liable to occur in more protracted cases. These facts lead to the commonly accepted belief that the Attic pest was not the bubonic plague. It may have been typhus fever, possibly smallpox.

The great pestilence which devastated Rome and its dependencies in 166, Anno Domini, is known as the plague of Antoninus or of Galen. This prolonged epidemic was brought to Rome by the returning legions from Seleucia. It was not characterized by buboes, and it is very probable that it was largely smallpox. On the other hand, the plague of Saint Cyprian, which prevailed from 251 to 266 Anno Domini, may have been partly bubonic in nature, since it prevailed during the fall and winter months and ceased during the hot summer. The disease