Although the Athenian fleet had caused much damage, and had come home victorious, the Spartan army was still in Attica. The Spartans had been awed and frightened by the eclipse, but they did not give up their purpose, and continued the war.
The Athenians remained within the city walls, not daring to venture out lest they should meet with a defeat, and they soon began to suffer greatly. As there were not enough water and food for the crowded multitude, a terrible disease called the plague soon attacked the people. This sickness was contagious, and it spread rapidly. On all sides one could see the dead and dying. The sufferers were tormented by a burning thirst; and as there was soon no one left to care for the sick, they painfully dragged themselves to the sides of the fountains, where many of them died.
Not only were the sick uncared for, but it was also nearly impossible to dispose of the dead; and the bodies lay in the streets day after day, waiting for burial.
When the Athenians were in the greatest distress, Pericles heard that there was a Greek doctor, named Hippocrates, who had a cure for the plague; and he wrote to him, imploring his help.
Hippocrates received Pericles’ letter at the same time that a message arrived from Artaxerxes, King of Persia. The king asked him to come and save the Persians, who were suffering from the same disease, and offered the doctor great wealth.
The noble doctor did not hesitate a moment, but sent away the Persian messenger, saying that it was his duty first to save his own countrymen. Then he immediately set out for the plague-stricken city of Athens, where he worked bravely night and day.
His care and skill restored many sufferers; and, although thousands died of the plague, the remaining Athenians knew that they owed him their lives. When the danger was over, they all voted that Hippocrates should have a golden crown, and said he should be called an Athenian citizen, an honor which they seldom granted to any outsider.
The plague had not only carried away many of the poorer citizens, but had also stricken down the nobles and the rich. Pericles’ family suffered from it too. All his children took it and died, with the exception of one.
The great man, in spite of his private cares and sorrows, was always in and out among the people, helping and encouraging them, and he finally caught the plague himself.
His friends soon saw, that, in spite of all their efforts, he would die. They crowded around his bed in tears, praising him in low tones, and saying how much he had done for the Athenians and for the improvement of their city.
“Why,” said one of them warmly, “he found the city bricks, and leaves it marble!”
Pericles, whose eyes had been closed, and who seemed unconscious, now suddenly roused himself, and said, “Why do you mention those things? They were mostly owing to my large fortune. The thing of which I am proudest is that I never caused any fellow-citizen to put on mourning!”