Milan is in the grip of an epidemic. Towns have been quarantined. Public gatherings have been cancelled. The streets are empty. Incompetent public officials are trying to dampen mounting hysteria. Dark rumours are circulating. Hospital wards are overflowing.
No, the Great Plague of 1630 in which perhaps a million (1,000,000) people died. About two hundred and fifty (250) have died so far in Italy’s coronavirus outbreak. That figure alone should immunise you against nostalgia for the Good Old Days. The panic and suffering of the citizens of Milan during the bubonic plague — who also had to cope with a drought, a famine and the Thirty Years’ War — make coronavirus seem like a Sunday summer picnic.
There’s a dearth of good news about the panic, illness, death and economic disruption of the world’s coronavirus epidemic. The only positive I can think of is that it may send people back to the Great Italian Novel, I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), which was published by Alessandro Manzoni in 1827. The climax of its complicated plot is a vivid description of the Great Plague.
If you want to be thankful for dodging a bullet by being born 400 years later than the events he described, dive into Chapters 31, 32 and 33. There are a number of instructive parallels with current events.
Remembering the Great Plague of 1630
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