Burying victims of the Bubonic Plague at Tournai
In this history book written in the 1340s by the French chronicler and poet Gilles li Muisis, residents of a town stricken by the plague burn Jews, who were blamed for causing the disease. (Royal Library of Belgium)
A potentially deadly virus is threatening lives everywhere. It may have started in China, and it may not. It seems that viruses and other pathogens can lie in a dormant state for years, perhaps centuries, only to rise again here and there. The Black Death is still alive. The Black Death so horrified Europeans that many of Europe’s inhabitants would not take baths fearing that freshly-cleansed skin could absorb pathogens.
I remember reading that Henri IV of France sent for his advisor, Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully, but that hearing from his messenger that Sully had just taken a bath, Henri IV asked that he stay indoors for a few days. The Black Death also survived in songs and in literature. Camus (7 November 1913 – 4 January 1960) wrote La Peste (The Plague), 1947, but we will focus on Giovanni Boccacio’s Decameron. The Decameron was completed in 1353, as the Black Death (1347-1351) was waning. Wikipedia reports the “[i]n total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 475 million to 350–375 million in the 14th century epidemics.” The Decameron had an enormous influence on Geoffrey Chaucer‘s (1340 – 1400) Canterbury Tales. But we are not looking at the Decameron, as a work of literature. The Decameron, written in Florentine Italian, is an example of self-isolation to avoid contagion, and, in our case, an epidemic heralding a pandemic.
Black Death, pandemic that ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1351, taking a proportionately greater toll of life than any other known epidemic or war up to that time.
The Decameron: self-isolation
The Decameron consists of a hundred tales told by seven young women and three young men who had self-isolated outside Florence. Self-isolation may well be the best option is a global attempt to save humanity. It’s a form of containment.
I believe that persons who can afford to self-isolate have a better chance of surviving Covid-19. The affluent and employees who benefit from sick leave may be able to self-isolate. But what about citizens who have been fired because they are not needed and may not have sick leave? These would be, for instance, persons working in travel agencies or for an airline company that may go bankrupt.
The agora is no longer a safe area and people should travel and use public transportation as little as possible. What happens to the individuals who have no sick pay? One cannot live without an income, but if earning an income means not only possible, but probable exposure to the coronavirus, remaining in the agora is unacceptable.
Flagellants in the Netherlands scourging themselves in atonement, believing that the Black Death is a punishment from God for their sins, 1349 (Britannica)
We spend billions on defence: war. And we may have to spend billions on another type of defence: a war on a devastating virus now deadlier than war. China is building hospitals and hospitals might be built elsewhere. But time is of the essence. Bill Gates and other wealthy people have donated huge amounts of money to essential research. But, again, time is of the essence. A researcher may have a brilliant idea tomorrow, but that may not happen. Moreover, producing the vaccine or remedy may also take time. In such a case, it is perhaps best to stay home at the government’s expense. Research is essential, but who and when will researchers discover the cure.
These viruses are unpredictable and fickle. The 1918 Spanish flu killed three grown sons in a day, but a daughter and her child survived. Coronavirus seems to attack the elderly and spare children. But we are all at risk, including those who recover. One will recover, but will one recover fully? They may find it difficult to earn a living even if they can manage their illness.
I caught a virus (H1N1) in February 1976. It did not kill me, but caused a permanent disability that eventually cost me my position and my blue house. My employers knew I needed more rest than other persons, but my workload grew heavier than the workload assigned to my colleagues.
But the current case is the novel coronavirus.
We must help those who cannot help themselves for lack of an income. We all pay taxes. Once this outbreak is under control, planes will fly again and travel agencies will reopen, but our current obligation is to save lives and contain the disease, which may mean self-isolation. Moreover, among the persons who survive, some may not be as strong as they were before their illness. Will employers everywhere increase their workloads, causing them to fall ill? That’s what they did to me.
It may cost a great deal of money, but we must save humanity. Let’s go through this horror with dignity, calm, and as charitably as we can. All of us must avoid exposure, and the elderly are at a terrible risk.
Life will be normal again.
Sources and Resources
 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Black Death (Encyclopædia Britannica: 13 December 2019) https://www.britannica.com/event/Black-Death
Love to everyone ♥
Johann Nepomuk Hummel — Ach, du lieber Augustin
© Micheline Walker
10 March 2020