The plague of Thebes, a historical epidemic in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Sophocles, one of the most noted playwrights of the ancient world, wrote the tragedy Oedipus Rex in the first half of the decade 430-420 bc. A lethal plague is described in this drama. We adopted a critical approach to Oedipus Rex in analyzing the literary description of the disease, unraveling its clinical features, and defining a possible underlying cause. Our goals were to clarify whether the plague described in Oedipus Rex reflects an actual historical event; to compare it with the plague of Athens, which was described by Thucydides as occurring around the same time Sophocles wrote; and to propose a likely causative pathogen. A critical reading of Oedipus Rex and a comparison with Thucydides' history, as well as a systematic review of historical data, strongly suggests that this epidemic was an actual event, possibly caused by Brucella abortus.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kousoulis, AA; Economopoulos, KP; Poulakou-Rebelakou, E; Androutsos, G; Tsiodras, S

Published Date

  • January 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 18 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 153 - 157

PubMed ID

  • 22261081

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3310127

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1080-6059

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1080-6040

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3201/eid1801.ad1801


  • eng