International Ophthalmology

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 107–109 | Cite as

The ocular disease of Aristodemus and Eurytus 480 BC: diagnostic considerations

  • Barend F. Hogewind
  • Joannes A. F. Coebergh
  • Niels C. Gritters-van den Oever
  • Michiel W. P. de Wolf
  • Gerard J. van der Wielen
Letter to the Editor


Objective In the historic description of Herodotus on the battle of Thermopylae at 480 BC two formerly healthy warriors suffer from “ophthalmia”. The purpose of this study is to assess the possible aetiologies of this disease. Design We studied Herodotus’ description in translation and offer a differential diagnosis. Results From the text we deduced that the “ophthalmia” was a condition in two physically fit males with a bilateral decreased or distorted vision, lasting longer than an hour, with an acute or subacute onset in Ancient Greece. The condition ultimately went into remission in one of the two patients, whereas the other subject deceased in combat not long after the onset of the disease, still suffering from the disease. The differential diagnosis consists of (1) anticholinergic syndrome secondary to an intoxication with the berries of the plant Atropa belladonna, (2) automutilation and (3) psychogenic loss of visual acuity. Conclusion It is impossible to assess the ultimate cause of the “opthalmia” after 2500 years, but we suggest the anticholinergic syndrome by intoxication with Atropa belladonna is the most likely.


Anticholinergic syndrome Atropa belladonna Ancient history Medicine in literature 

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2688 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barend F. Hogewind
    • 1
  • Joannes A. F. Coebergh
    • 2
    • 3
  • Niels C. Gritters-van den Oever
    • 4
  • Michiel W. P. de Wolf
    • 5
  • Gerard J. van der Wielen
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Ophthalmology of the Medical Center HaaglandenThe HagueThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Departments of Neurology of Ashford & St. Peter’s HospitalChertseyUK
  3. 3.St. George’s HospitalTootingUK
  4. 4.The Department of Anesthesiology of the University Medical Center GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.The Department of Anesthesiology of the University Hospital MaastrichtMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  6. 6.The Department of Urology of the Leiden University Medical CenterLeidenThe Netherlands

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