Monday, March 2, 2020

Fighting Contagion

Bizarrely, Harvard professor Hannah Marcus explains that the real problem with the corona virus is bigotry. Being a student of Renaissance plagues in Europe, she declares that we should not succumb to prejudice and should not do what Europeans did at that time, that is, accuse Jews of poisoning wells and then murdering them.

Since she is a history professor she ought to have mentioned that the pope at the time issued an edict declaring that the Jews were not responsible for the plague. It was widely ignored.

For the record, the bubonic plague was caused by a bacterium. Today, of course, we have antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. The corona virus is not a bacterium, obviously. Scientists are now developing anti-viral treatments and especially vaccines… these being the best way to contain the disease.

I find it strange that Marcus focuses on the period between 1400 and 1700. She explains:

As a historian of medicine, my research focuses on Italy in the early modern period, from 1400 to 1700. In this period, many of our current public health approaches, including tallying fatalities, emerged in response to outbreaks of plague. The word quarantine derives from the Venetian word for 40 days, the length of the isolation period imposed on ships during times of plague. City officials during the Renaissance, faced with recurring bouts of plague, developed our statistical approach to tracking outbreaks. From the 1450s in Milan and the 1530s in Venice, all deaths in these cities were systematically recorded to monitor outbreaks. In 17th-century England, these tallies were printed weekly as broadsheets, which counted plague deaths by parish under the gloomy headline “Lord have mercy upon us.”

But then, she remarks that the bubonic plague arrived in Italy in the fourteenth century, in 1348, to be precise. The most famous book about it, Boccaccio’s Decameron recounts the erotic stories told by a group of pilgrims who fled Florence during the plague years.

Marcus does not mention what that book is really about. By the way, it is great fun to read... if you like fourteenth century erotica. Even if you don't.

In the opening to “The Decameron,” the 14th-century poet and scholar Giovanni Boccaccio described reactions in his native Florence to an outbreak. He lamented that “the reverend authority of the laws, both human and divine, was all in a manner dissolved and fallen into decay.” 

Those who could, tried to escape the plague by leaving town. 

Those who lived in close quarters were more likely to contract the plague. This certainly included inhabitants of monasteries and convents. The plague must have undermined the influence and the power of the Church. After all, in a prescientific age people had little more than prayer to fight the plague. And prayer seemed to be ineffective.

In the hands of Martin Luther in the early sixteenth century the plague promoted a new form of Western individualism. Luther encouraged people to read the Bible on their own, the better to avoid crowds and congregations. 

Obviously, we are much better today at quarantining people. But, we seem to believe that the best approach to avoiding the new plague is to panic and to sell all of our stock.

4 comments:

trigger warning said...

Such a silly, ridiculous woman. The problem with covid-19 is ARDS.

Sam L. said...

'Bizarrely, Harvard professor Hannah Marcus explains that the real problem with the corona virus is bigotry." SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRE it is.

"Obviously, we are much better today at quarantining people. But, we seem to believe that the best approach to avoiding the new plague is to panic and to sell all of our stock." FEARMONGERS!!!!! IDJITS111 HATERS!!!

UbuMaccabee said...

She is partly right; we should quarantine leftist university professors so they cannot continue to poison the entire country. Much worse than corona virus.

Sam L. said...

She's a Harvard professor. That's ten strikes against her rignt there!