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Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary history

Insight from literature

Over the history of Western literature about pandemics, much has been said in the way of catharsis, ways of dealing with intense emotion, and political commentary on how people respond to public health crises.

It is worth to peruse these texts to understand our reactions to the spread of this virus.

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Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary history

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary history

http://theconversation.com/pandemics-from-homer-to-stephen-king-what-we-can-learn-from-literary-history-133572

theconversation.com

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Key Ideas

Insight from literature

Over the history of Western literature about pandemics, much has been said in the way of catharsis, ways of dealing with intense emotion, and political commentary on how people respond to public health crises.

It is worth to peruse these texts to understand our reactions to the spread of this virus.

Stories help us to think

Homer's Iliad opens with a plague visited upon the Greek camp at Troy. The Decameron (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio is set during the Black Death.

The stories offer the listeners ways to consider how similar crises have been managed previously, and how to reorganize their daily lives, which have been suspended due to the epidemic.

Authority's failure to respond

  • Mary Shelley's apocalypse novel The Last Man (1826), depicts the life of Lionel Verney, who becomes the last man after a devastating global plague. The book criticizes the institutional responses to the plague, showing the revolutionary utopianism and the in-fighting that breaks out among surviving groups before they also die.
  • The short story, The Masque of the Red Death (1842), also shows the failures o authority figures to respond to a disaster appropriately.

Modern and contemporary literature

  • Albert Camus' The Plague (1942) and Stephen King's The Stand (1978) depict the social implications of plague-like pandemics, particularly regarding isolation and failures of the state to contain the disease and moderate the growing panic.
  • The 2016 novel Fever by Deon Meyer describes the results of a bioengineered virus where survivors besiege one another for resources.

Fiction by indigenous peoples

Some speculative novels written by indigenous peoples and writers of color are treating colonialism and the diseases that spread by the colonizers as the source of an ongoing apocalypse.

For many people in formerly colonized places, the apocalypse has already come - literally and metaphorically - and have destroyed their populations.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

A History Of Pandemics

  • A Pandemic is defined as the proliferation of a disease over the whole country or the entire world.
  • Diseases and illnesses have troubled humanity since the earliest days, but ...

Quarantined

  • The original use of the word Quarantine was the act of anchoring a ship arrived in Venice, Italy, for 40 days before landing.
  • Infectiousness of any disease is measured by the reproduction number (R0, or R naught). For example, Smallpox has an R0 of 6 whereas Measles has an R0 of 16. 
  • Vaccination, if available, and herd immunity can curb the spread of disease.
  • Big cities, with exploding population and traffic, can lead to the rapid spread of any infectious disease.

Spreading of diseases

Transmissible diseases existed during humankind’s hunter-gatherer days, but the shift to agrarian life 10,000 years ago created communities that made epidemics more possible.
We started build...

430 B.C.: Plague of Athens

The earliest recorded pandemic happened during the Peloponnesian War. It passed through Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt,  and it reached Athens as the Spartans laid siege. Two-thirds of the population died.
The disease, suspected to have been typhoid fever, weakened the Athenians significantly and played a big role in their defeat by the Spartans.

165 A.D.: The Antonine Plague

It may have been an early appearance of smallpox that began with the Huns.
The Huns then infected the Germans, who passed it to the Romans and then returning troops spread it throughout the Roman empire.  This plague continued until about 180 A.D., claiming Emperor Marcus Aurelius as one of its victims.

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A lesson from history

Near the end of World War One, the Spanish flu infected over a quarter of the world's population and claimed between 50 and 100 million lives.

During this pandemic, cities around the US ...

The spread of the new virus

  • If you are infected and continue to socialize as normal, you may pass the virus on to between two and three friends or family members, who could then infect a further 2 - 3 people. In one month, this can lead to 244 other cases, and in two months, it can rise to 59,604
  • A silent transmission - people who have been infected, but don't show any symptoms - can occur in up to 10% of cases. These people may not realize that they need to self-isolate.
  • There is evidence that staying at home and maintaining a safe distance from others can slow the spread.

The aim of social distancing

One of the goals of social distancing is to delay the spread of the virus, so it reaches people more slowly

The idea is to lengthen the time period over which the virus travels through a population and push the peak number of cases back so it appears later. With a lower rate of spreading, less infected people will need urgent care and resources at any given time.

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