Around 5 years ago, I started researching the science behind Oedipus Rex, Sophocles’ monumental play and arguably one of the most well known literary stories globally. In his tragedy, Sophocles masterfully deals with themes like fate, free will, blindness, and incest. The renowned Greek tragedian in fact includes in his verses the first clear description and interpretation of what was later to be called ‘Oedipal Complex’. Many readers forget though, that this rich in themes and metaphors play is nested in the context of an epidemic disease.
In the early 2010s, at the height of my medico-sociohistorical interest, when I first looked at the play from a medical perspective, little did I know that no other researcher in the past had systematically analysed it in this context nor that there is indeed a classical mass grave along the shores of river Kifissos of Boeotia perhaps waiting for paleopathologists to explore and research further. I was, however, fortunate enough to be joined in my research by some brilliant colleagues (top billed of course by my friend Konstantinos Economopoulos). Together we published our analysis as a scientific paper. We adopted a critical approach to the tragedy, analysing the literary description of the disease, unraveling its clinical features and even defining a possible underlying microbiological cause: brucellosis transmitted from crops through cattle to humans. Our study revealed that we had every scientific backing to argue that this epidemic (for which we used the name “The Plague of Thebes”) was indeed a historical event. Looking back at this research 5 years on, I am now attempting to trace its impact. Continue reading