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New Latin, from Greek, defilement, from miainein to pollute


  • 1: a vaporous exhalation formerly believed to cause disease; also : a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere <a miasma of tobacco smoke>

2: an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt <freed from the miasma of poverty — Sir Arthur Bryant>; also : an atmosphere that obscures : fog


In Greek mythology, a miasma is "a contagious power ... that has an independent life of its own. Until purged by the sacrificial death of the wrongdoer, society would be chronically infected by catastrophe."

An example is Atreus who invited his brother Thyestes to a delicious stew containing the bodies of his own sons. A miasma contaminated the entire family of Atreus, where one violent crime led to another, providing fodder for many of the Greek heroic tales. However, attempts to cleanse a city or a society from miasma may have the opposite effect, that of reinforcing the miasma.