Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"If You Wish to Preserve Yourself ..."

     I normally wouldn't be doing this, except, you know, I have a lot of time on my hands.

     I'm watching a series of lectures on Amazon Prime called The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague, given by Dorsey Armstrong, professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University. I'd recommend the course only to those who are really into this sort of thing. While Armstrong is obviously well-versed in her subject, the material is very historical, extremely detailed, and somewhat repetitive.

     Nevertheless, for whatever reason, every day for the last week or so I've found myself falling down the rabbit hole of the 14th century, when the bubonic plague was creeping across Asia and Europe. The Great Mortality, as it came to be called, killed some 100 million people or roughly half the world's population.

A danse macabre
     The silver lining to the period was a blossoming of certain types of art. For example, the ghoulish art form of danse macabre, showing people meeting up with their skeletal counterparts, came out of this period. There was also memento mori -- "remember you must die" -- which involved tomb art  depicting the decayed corpse of the diseased. And you might already know that The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales were written in this era -- both collections of tales told by people on a journey to escape the plague. 

     But what impressed me most about the presentation was a letter written by Louis Heyligen, a Flemish monk in the Papal Court in Avignon. (In case you don't remember from high-school history, for a time during the 1300s the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignon, France.) Heyligen sent his letter back home, where the plague had yet to hit in full force, giving advice to friends and family.

     "I am writing to you most dearly beloved so that you should know in what peril we are now living. If you wish to preserve yourself the best advice is that a man should eat and drink moderately and avoid getting cold and refrain from any excess -- and above all mix little with people unless it be with a few who have healthy breath. But it is best to stay at home until the epidemic has passed, as it is to be feared that in the end it will encircle the whole world . . . "

     I found this a curiously personal reminder that we are not the first, and we won't be the last, to suffer from a great pandemic. In fact, while the Black Death was at its most virulent when it first showed up in 1347, there were recurring outbreaks for another 200 years.

     And so if you're not disposed to heed the cautious advice about Corona from Governor Cuomo or Governor Wolf or Governor Brown, maybe you'll pay attention to the counsel sent out so long ago by the forlorn friar from Flanders.

14 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

Daughter was speaking of this the other day. Out of every pandemic comes a great renaissance not that we will live long enough to see it Tom. I must watch this.

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gigi-hawaii said...

Good advice from that monk.

ApacheDug said...

Wow--as fascinating at it is frightening. Hundreds of years later, and that Flemish monk's letter stands the test of time! It amazes me how lightly people (in my neighborhood at least) tend to be taking this. On my walk to the market yesterday, I must've passed a dozen people on the way, and not a mask in sight.

Olga said...

There is a saying about the more things change, the more they say the same. We need to take care of ourselves the best we know how but we also need to take responsibility for our actions.

DJan said...

I am happy to live in a place that is taking the virus seriously. Many more masked than unmasked faces, and all the stores are requiring them when inside. And most people are taking social distancing seriously. :-)

Rian said...

"... and above all mix little with people unless it be with a few who have healthy breath. But it is best to stay at home until the epidemic has passed"

You would think this would be obvious... but apparently not.

DUTA said...

"Nothing new under the sun" - as the monk's advice(stay home, mix little with people) proves it.

On the other hand, in the army they say 'never fight a new war with the strategy of the last one' But no, experts keep going back to learn from past pandemics , and by doing so, miss a lot about the present one.
The corona virus is something else ; it seems, it's heading towards a 'crescendo' phase, and no social distancing is going to intimidate it.

Anonymous said...

The people who work as nurses, the people who work as food workers, you know, the working class, the baby boomers abused their entire lives. Good luck boomers! You'll soon be dependent on those same nurses and food workers who you treated like shit. Maybe you boomer's shouldn't have treated working class and poor people like trash. What goes around comes around.

Kay said...

Do you suppose you have to kill off 50% of the world’s population to get herd immunity? sigh... It’s all so crazy. I thought everybody was wearing masks in Hawaii and being cooperative, but lately I’m hearing in the news that there are some people going into the stores that are opening and pulling off their masks saying that if the president isn’t wearing a mask, why should they?

Tabor said...

When watching old movies and TV shows I am surprised when something contagious is part of the theme...yet it is. I guess we always thought that was fiction.

Arkansas Patti said...

That monk suggested pretty much what we are supposed to practice today. It really isn't hard but sadly too many just don't get it.

Tom said...

Doug, thanks for the comment, I'm going to explore your blog. Rian and others ... yeah, I know, it should be obvious. If only more people had some common sense!

Linda Myers said...

As I look around, this new normal is actually interesting to me. I have to think about everything I do. Is this safe? Or is it worth the risk? I wear my mask when I'm around other people outside. I drive eight miles to take out Thai food because the restaurant in my retirement community is closed until the end of the month because of a covid exposure. I look at the fires burning in the hills above Tucson, and people not wearing masks. I order food delivered from the grocery store if I need more than just a few things. It is over 100 degrees every day now, so I do any physical activity in the early morning or the early evening. Still, things are so up in the air. Oddly, I'm not afraid. I am powerless over all the crazy stuff going around, so I do the things I have some control over. And I remember that this too shall pass.

We live in interesting times!

Barbara said...

I've been watching it also. I find it interesting that she mentions the virus starting in China. It is very detailed so I have to watch it while my brain is in full gear.