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

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.

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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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We remain vulnerable

We remain vulnerable

For all our advances in medicine, we remain more vulnerable to pandemics than we would like to believe.

To understand our vulnerability and to establish what steps we need to take to end ...

The Black Death

In 1347, the Black Death came to Europe, first brought by the Mongol army, then spreading through Europe.

In six years, tens of millions fell gravely ill. Nearly half of all Europeans succumb to the Black Death, one-third of Egyptians and Syrians were killed, and it also laid waste to parts of central Asia, India, and China.

Disasters that scarred humanity

  • In AD 541, the plague of Justinian struck the Byzantine empire, killing roughly 3% of the world's population.
  • When Europeans reached the Americas in 1492, the two populations exposed each other to completely novel diseases such as measles, influenza, and smallpox.
  • Centuries later, the interconnected world made a global pandemic possible. The Spanish flu of 1918 spread to six continents where between 3% and 6% were killed.

However, even the Spanish flu pandemic had a minimal apparent effect on the world's development. It was less significant than the first world war, which had a smaller death toll but a more substantial impact on the course of history.

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