March 10, 2021 from 10am-12pm (MST)

The Parthenon and the Plague: Pandemic Perspectives from Classical Athens

The Golden Age in Athens (5th century BCE) is synonymous with military tactics, grand politics, advanced technology, oratory, philosophy, and arts.  Parthenon, the largest temple in Greece, and the Athenian Acropolis loom large. But one year after the completion of the Parthenon, a civil war broke out and a plague hit Athens. It crippled its population, its moral compass, and its dreams for continued hegemony. The Athenians had often heard about plagues in their dramas and myths, but now they experienced it first hand on a devastating scale. The talk will explore the social and economic impact of the plague, as well as contextualize such public health disasters within the larger context of health and medicine in the ancient Greek and Roman world. It will also explore how the Athenian Acropolis and the Parthenon were recently promoted as pillars of culture and resilience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and very volatile geopolitical realities in modern Greece.  



Dr. Eleni Hasaki is a Mediterranean archaeologist with research interests in the craft technologies of the Classical world, especially ceramics, the spatial organization of workshops, craft apprenticeship and social networks of communities of practice. Her publications focus on ceramic production centers from ancient Greece, their forming and firing technologies, experimental projects of Bronze Age Aegean ceramics, as well as on identity of artisans as seen in visual representations. She co-directs of the Laboratory for Traditional Technology where she supervises experimental archaeology projects. Currently she is working on a monograph with sculptor Alan LeQuire on the documentation of the 1:1 scale replica of the colossal statue of Athena Parthenos (once standing in the Athenian Parthenon) at the Nashville Parthenon. This experimental project highlights the bridging of ancient and modern technologies and the critical importance of community engagement.


She teaches a large range of undergraduate and graduate courses on Classical art and archaeology, ancient technology, ceramics, health and medicine in ancient Mediterranean. A recent series of students' assigmentments in Hasaki's course comparing ancient pandemics to COVID-19 highlight the relevance of antiquity to nowadays.


Hasaki works closely with the Honors College as Honors Professor, Flinn Scholar Mentor, and Faculty Fellow. In terms of global engagement for students she has directed the ASCSA Summer Session, Summer Seminar, and  has established the Arizona in the Aegean Summer Study Abroad program in the Cyclades (Greece). For 2014-2018. She was the Director of Undergraduate Studies at the School of Anthropology. She has served as the President of the Tucson Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, and as the Vice-President of the Hellenic Cultural Foundation.

mankind facing the great pandemics

Three aspects will be discussed:

  1. The side-stepping effect in the face of the violence of the epidemic: why did we think we were no longer threatened by major epidemics (which seemed to belong to a bygone past for rich countries).
  2. The strategy of the dominant countries: impose on the countries where the epidemic starts to contain it at their own expense, of course. This policy, that appeared in the middle of the 19th century in Western European countries, later embraced by the United States, is also the one followed by the WHO!
  3. While our situation today is quite different from that of the recent past, many of human society reactions are close to those of the past. This seems to refer to a kind of anthropology of social functioning in the face of pandemics: protecting oneself to the detriment of others, using the epidemic for professional or political purposes, multiplying medical dissension. We also note a return of the religious, and can observe the exasperation with respect to economic inequalities and differences in mortality. 

In conclusion, what are the major ruptures compared to the epidemics of the past?



Patrice Bourdelais is an Emeritus professor at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. A historian and demographer, he has worked on population aging, the history of epidemics, and public health.


He has published numerous articles in journals and several books including Une Peur bleue: Histoire du choléra en France (with Jean-Yves Raulot, Payot et Rivages, 1988), Les Hygiénistes, enjeux, modèles et pratiques (Belin, 2001), and Epidemics Laid Low: A History of What Happened in Rich Countries (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).