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ASCLEPIADES

SULLA'S DEATH

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Salve, guys & Ladies!

 

Here is the curious and highly atypical XXXVIth chapter of Plutarch's "Vita Sulla"

 

"However, even though he had such a wife at home, he consorted with actresses, harpists, and theatrical people, drinking with them on couches all day long. For these were the men who had most influence with him now: Roscius the comedian, Sorex the archmime, and Metrobius the impersonator of women, for whom, though past his prime, he continued up to the last to be passionately fond, and made no denial of it. By this mode of life he aggravated a disease which was insignificant in its beginnings, and for a long time he knew not that his bowels were ulcerated. This disease corrupted his whole flesh also, and converted it into worms, so that although many were employed day and night in removing them, what they took away was as nothing compared with the increase upon him, but all his clothing, baths, hand-basins, and food, were infected with that flux of corruption, so violent was its discharge. Therefore he immersed himself many times a‑day in water to cleanse and scour his person. But it was of no use; for the change gained upon him rapidly, and the swarm of vermin defied all purification.

 

We are told that in very ancient times, Acastus the son of Pelias was thus eaten of worms and died, and in later times, Alcman the lyric poet, Pherecydes the theologian, Callisthenes of Olynthus, who was kept closely imprisoned, as also Mucius the jurist; and if mention is to be made of men who no excellence to commend them, but were notorious for other reasons, it is said that the runaway slave who headed the servile war in Sicily, Eunus by name, was taken to Rome after his capture, and died there of this disease."

 

And here is the abstract of a Soviet article of 1937:

 

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An interesting find, but the mention of phthiriasis seems odd because that seems to rule out other, more plausible diagnoses. I am actually more partial to necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria), though I really have no explanation for the large numbers of worms mentioned. Does the article say why they chose to focus on lice infection?

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Diagnosing ancient ailments isn't easy. The writers of the time are prone to exaggeration and inaccuracy. This means that all sorts of wierd afflictions get put forward - like with caligula's apparent illness for instance. Regarding Sulla, it reminds me of a program I saw on TV. It was about a vet in africa on a game reserve, and one antelope was in a bad way. A wound was infected by some very nasty maggots who were literally eating the poor creature, leaving a ghastly open crater in the animals back. Its tail was ready to fall off. Horrible. Had Sulla been in africa? Or had something like this passed by him? Its always conjecture and no diagnosis seems to fit the description exactly.

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An interesting find, but the mention of phthiriasis seems odd because that seems to rule out other, more plausible diagnoses. I am actually more partial to necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria), though I really have no explanation for the large numbers of worms mentioned. Does the article say why they chose to focus on lice infection?

Salve, QS & C!

 

Sorry, I don't have the whole article,only the abstract that you read.

 

BUT... it appears to be a linguistic matter. Here is another translation (from Greek) of the XXXVIth chapter of Plutarch's "Vita Sulla", this time by John Dryden:

 

"Notwithstanding this marriage, he kept company with actresses, musicians, and dancers, drinking with them on couches night and day. His chief favorites were Roscius the comedian, Sorex the arch mime, and Metrobius the player, for whom, though past his prime, he still professed a passionate fondness. By these courses he encouraged a disease which had begun from some unimportant cause; and for a long time he failed to observe that his bowels were ulcerated, till at length the corrupted flesh broke out into lice. Many, were employed day and night in destroying them, but the work so multiplied under their hands, that not only his clothes, baths, basins, but his very meat was polluted with that flux and contagion, they came swarming out in such numbers. He went frequently by day into the bath to scour and cleanse his body, but all in vain; the evil generated too rapidly and too abundantly for any ablutions to overcome it. There died of this disease, amongst those of the most ancient times, Acastus, the son of Pelias; of later date, Alcman the poet, Pherecydes the theologian, Callisthenes the Olynthian, in the time of his imprisonment, as also Mucius the lawyer; and if we may mention ignoble, but notorious names, Eunus the fugitive, who stirred up the slaves of Sicily to rebel against their masters, after he was brought captive to Rome, died of this creeping sickness."

 

Once more, emphasis is mine.

BTW, previous chapter was translated by Bernadotte Perrin (1914) and it comes from Lacus Curtius site.

 

Cheers and good luck.

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Salve, guys!

 

And from a XVII century note on Sir Thomas Browne's Of the Oracle of Apollo:

 

[After his death of a gruesome disease, caused either by his wickedness (Pausanias) or his high living (Plutarch); according to Plutarch's Sylla, "It is said that the Roman ladies contributed such vast heaps of spices, that besides what was carried on two hundred and ten litters, there was sufficient to form a large figure of Sylla himself, and another representing a lictor, out of the costly frankincense and cinnamon. The day being cloudy in the morning, they deferred carrying forth the corpse till about three in the afternoon, expecting it would rain. But a strong wind blowing full upon the funeral pile, and setting it all in a bright flame, the body was consumed so exactly in good time, that the pyre had begun to smoulder, and the fire was upon the point of expiring, when a violent rain came down, which continued till night. So that his good fortune was firm even to the last, and did as it were officiate at his funeral. His monument stands in the Campus Martius, with an epitaph of his own writing; the substance of it being, that he had not been outdone by any of his friends in doing good turns, nor by any of his foes in doing bad."]

 

Even today, there is evidence of sexual ("venereal") transmission of phthiriasis (lice disease).

 

Salve, guys

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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Salve, guys!

 

And last but not least, here is the aforementioned passage of Pausanias' Description of Greece,

(Book IX, Ch. XXXIII, Sec. VI):

 

"Sulla's treatment of the Athenians was savage and foreign to the Roman character, but quite consistent with his treatment of Thebes and Orchomenus. But in Alalcomenae he added yet another to his crimes by stealing the image of Athena itself. After these mad outrages against the Greek cities and the gods of the Greeks he was attacked by the most foul of diseases. He broke out into lice, and what was formerly accounted his good fortune came to such an end. The sanctuary at Alalcomenae, deprived of the goddess, was hereafter neglected."

 

and the latinized original Grrek version:

 

Sulla de esti men kai ta es Ath

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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