Miasma in Mythology
Miasma is often translated into English as "pollution," but that fails to capture the true essence of the concept. For the Ancient Greeks, a miasma was a moral taint that hung over a person, family, or city after the commission of a crime. The miasma could cause crop failures, cattle disease, stillbirths, and other plagues until it could be dispelled by sacrifice, purification, or upon the death of the guilty party.
Miasma in Thebes
In Thebes, the sphinx was an agent of a miasma that was dispelled when Oedipus solved the riddle. His actions then created another miasma that took hold and intensified throughout his reign.
Miasma in History
Doctors continued to believe that disease could be caused by miasmas well into the 19th Century. In fact, the disease called malaria literally means "bad air" after its originally suspected cause. But with the invention of microscopes and the discovery of bacteria and viruses, miasma theory gradually lost out to germ theory among health professionals.