It's estimated that anywhere between one-third and two-thirds of the city were wiped out over a half-decade, before the plague up and vanished into the night. Oh, that's right; we don't know what the plague was, hence the word "vanished." And the list of suspects isn't what you'd call great. There's typhoid, which matches the reported symptoms, but couldn't have caused a sudden apocalypse-level outbreak because it was already killing people in Ancient Greece. Another possibility was typhus, which acts quickly but doesn't cause the reported symptoms, and Ebola, which fits perfectly ... except for the fact that this would mean after devastating Athens, Ebola went underground for two millennia before resurfacing for its first official recording in Zaire in 1976.
Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wiki Commons
Apollo, Greek god of plague and procrastination.
But don't worry, this Pandemic Mystery is probably on the verge of being solved, as we've begun digging up the ancient victims' mass graves, because it seems no one in the scientific community watched Outbreak.
"Glass Delusion" Convinced People They Were Made Of Glass
It's hard to imagine that anyone in the Middle Ages had time for hobbies, what with the never-ending carnival of misery, plague, inquisitions, beheadings, and warfare. However, they found a way with "glass delusion" -- a psychological disorder that became de rigueur across Europe for everyone from royalty to the common-law mud harvesters of the time.
Honestly, a little delusion was the only way to get through the day.
The condition was simple to diagnose. Sufferers were convinced that they were literally made of glass, and that any movement, no matter how slight, would shatter them into a million pieces. It also came and went in moods. In one moment, someone could be walking and talking and carrying perfectly fine, and the next be rendered unable to move from their bed for fear that they might break. If you want to experience this for yourself, you can either drink to the point where you collapse on the floor and the slightest movement will make you scream the contents of your stomach into a perfectly vertical geyser, or you can simply pretend you have the disease until you really have it.
See, that's the weirdest thing about glass delusion: how it spread. One of the first sufferers was King Charles VI of France in the 1400s, although how or why he became consumed by the idea that he was nothing more than a blown glass sculpture of a man and/or the villain from an M. Night Shyamalan movie has been lost to history. Either way, his affliction triggered a massive outbreak soon afterwards, and it's thought that this was the result of the populace imitating his illness because of celebrity culture. Unfortunately, the nature of pathology being what it is, you can only pretend to act a certain way for so long until you actually are that way, so anyone copying the king's bizarre condition might have eventually found themselves afflicted with it for realsies. It was the 15th-Century equivalent of everyone getting the "Rachel" from Friends, only to discover that all that Friends exposure had turned them into terrible people.
When Adam isn't interspersing historical medical horror with dick jokes, he tweets. He also has an email address where you can contact him with anything and everything. This might not end well for him.
Also check out 23 Horrifying Diseases You Won't Believe Existed and 5 Awful Afflictions That Changed The World (For The Better).
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