How Diseases Spread: Ways People Have Tried to Explain Pandemics Through History

How Diseases Spread: Ways People Have Tried to Explain Pandemics Through History

Throughout the millennia, people have developed quite irrational ideas about how infectious diseases such as the plague and cholera have spread. Some of these notions – like the idea that the ancient Cypriot plague could be caught just by looking at the face of someone in distress – seem laughable, like something that the troop of Monty Python could have sprinkled in one of their medieval parody scenarios for television.

Yet even as waves of disease spread over and over population centers, it took centuries for science to fully understand the invisible world of microbes. Until that happened, people under siege during a pandemic tried to explain the overwhelming number of deaths they saw in different ways. Some have used simple observations, while others have turned to fervent beliefs. Others saw the cataclysm through the lens of their long-standing prejudices, while others treated the carnage through bizarre theories and superstitions. Here are just a few:

READ MORE: How 5 of the worst pandemics in history finally ended

Angry gods

When masses of people inexplicably began to die, many ancient cultures first looked to a vengeful or merciless God or gods. In ancient Greek mythology, which often served as an allegory for real events, Homer wrote in The Iliad of the god Apollo rained on the Greek army with its arrows during the Trojan War, killing animals first, then soldiers. The arrows of Apollo came to symbolize illness and death.

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