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History Lesson: Greek Empire Fell Because of Disease

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Civilizations have experienced more devastating blows from sickness than from swords–more heartache from bugs than from bombings.

The face of the world has been changed more through the louse, the flea, and the mosquito than by marching armies and flying missiles. When the daily count of the dead reached the breaking point (different in various societies and ages), responsible people became irresponsible, tranquil people became terrified, and the borderline paranoid became dangerous. As people fled their homes, social and political organizations disappeared, crops were left to rot in the fields, populations were displaced, civil war was fomented, and major shifts in religious thinking occurred. Some of that is taking place in African nations at this time.

After major plagues mysteriously left a nation, interest in religion decreased because of the many deaths among the clergy and because of so many unanswered prayers. Of course, unbelievers have used unanswered prayer as an excuse for unbelief since the beginning of time. J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson wrote, “It is beyond the bounds of possibility for anyone to estimate the influence of epidemic disease on religion and philosophy. Nor can we clearly assess its influence on the material course of human history.”

Many historians believe that the empire of ancient Greece fell into Roman hands because of malaria attacks, not because of marching armies. Malaria was endemic throughout the Greek world by 400 B.C. The malarial parasite (passed to man by the female mosquito) killed infants, weakened unsuspecting children, forced the vacating of the best farmlands, and helped produce Greek citizens who were listless, lazy, and licentious. As a result, the power and glory of ancient Greece became a mocking memory.

Greek historian Polybius (204-122 B.C.), called the most reliable ancient historian, reported that the whole of Greece had been visited in his time by childlessness and a general decline of the population that resulted in the emptying of the cities and the failure of the land to render its produce. He said that men refused to marry or, if they married, refused to have children. If they had children, they refused to rear them. He said that men went out of their way to be ostentatious, avaricious, and indolent.

Quite an indictment. Will Western civilization learn from the past or will we have the same experience? If Americans must live daily with the threat of terror (as do the Israelis) will that further erode our culture and destroy our homes and churches?

Some historians, in my opinion, give too much credit to the mosquito for the fall of Greece. It was a major factor, but men must always be held accountable for their actions. Today, a man gets drunk and kills a carload of people and pleads that he was not in control and should not be held responsible. Others tell us that sugar impaired their ability, and they lost control and should not be accountable for the results they produced. No doubt, there is some truth to those claims, but we must all be held accountable for our actions. The same was true in Greece. Malaria did make them listless, therefore lazy, but they chose to be licentious.

The Greeks slowly lost their brilliance which was thought to be epitome of original thought. This degeneration is obvious in their art and literature and other areas of creativity. W.H.S. Jones wrote, “Their initiative vanished; they ceased to create and began to comment. Patriotism, with rare exceptions, became an empty name, for few had the high spirit and energy to translate into action man’s duty to the state. Vacillation, indecision, fitful outbursts of unhealthy activity followed by cowardly depression, selfish cruelty and criminal weakness are characteristics of the public life of Greece from the struggle with Macedonia to the final conquest by the armies of Rome.”

Jones, De Sanctis, Celli, and others taught that disease has changed the condition of this world more than wars. Ancient Greece would not have fallen into the hands of Rome if it had not been for malaria. Are we not fools if we don‘t consider the same or similar results from possible contagious diseases and biological terrorism we face today?

We can now add AIDS, flu, and the Ebola viruses to the scourges that have smitten mankind, taking their dreary toll. As of today 36 million people have died of AIDS. The death toll from Ebola is climbing daily and will be 1.4 million by January according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of course, they have been wrong so many times during these days.

Africa gave us Ebola, AIDS, and Obama, so what’s next?

If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.



 

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