Luis Rubio

The pandemic has ended, but its aftereffects are visible everywhere. An epidemic, Ambrose Bierce wrote in 1906, is “a disease having a sociable turn and few prejudices.” Indeed, science responded with medicines that helped allay the symptoms of those who fell ill, while vaccines began to show a path forward, even though the exit, due to the enormous complexity of the logistics involved, will take time to materialize for the whole of humankind.

Through this period, I gathered a large quantity of anecdotes and quotes about pandemics through history. Here go a few that I found particularly relevant.

In his novel Death in Venice (1912), Thomas Mann tells how the pesthouse of the Ospedale Civico had filled and commerce had become very active between the port and the cemetery island of San Michelle. But there was ear of a general drop in prosperity. The recently opened art exhibit in the public gardens was to be considered, along with the heavy losses that in case of panic or unfavorable rumors would threaten businesses, the hotels, the entire elaborate system for exploiting foreigners… The policy of silence and denial was upheld… The chief health officer had resigned from his post in indignation and been promptly replaced by a more tractable personality. Nothing new under the sun.

Humanity has but three great enemies: fever, famine, and war; of these, by far the greatest, by far the most terrible, is fever

William Osler, 1896

After the epidemic began, I basically didn’t go home. I lived separately from my husband and family. My sister helped take care of my children at home. My youngest child didn’t recognize me, didn’t react to me when he saw me on video. I felt lost. My husband told me that things happen in life, and you’re not only a participant, you’re choosing to lead a team to fight this epidemic. That’s also a very meaningful act, he said, and when everything returns to normal, you’ll know it was a valuable experience to have had.

Interview with Dr. Li Wenliang, who died in Wuhan

Plagues are as certain as death and taxes

Richard Krause, 1982

When one remembers under what conditions the working people live, when one thinks how crowded their dwellings are, how every nook and corner swarms in the same room, in the same bed, the only wonder is that a contagious disease like this fever does not spread yet farther. And when one reflects how little medical assistance the sick have at command, how many are without any medical advice whatsoever, and ignorant of the most ordinary precautionary measures, the mortality seems actually small.

Friedrich Engels, The Conditions of the Working Class in England, 1844

Death from the bubonic plague is rated, with crucifixion, among the nastiest human experiences of all

Guy R. Williams, 1975

A number of people were still unpersuaded that there really was a plague. And since some victims had actually recovered, “it was said” (the final arguments of an opinion defeated by the evidence are always strange to hear), by the common people, and also by many biased doctors, that it was not a true plague, because otherwise everyone would have been dead

Alejandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, 1827

The most important consideration in the causation of disease is the body constitution that becomes afflicted. Therefore, not all people will die during an epidemic

Moses Maimonides, c 1190

The illness was so dreadful that no one could walk or move. The sick were so utterly helpless that they could only lie on their beds, like corpses… A great many died from the plague, and many others died of hunger. They could not get up to search for food, and everyone else was too sick to care for them, so they starved to death in their beds. Some people came down with a milder form of the disease; they suffered less than others and made a good recovery. But they could not escape entirely. Their looks were ravaged, for wherever a sore broke out, it gouged an ugly pockmark in the skin. And a few of the survivors were left completely blind.

Bernardino de Sahagun, Florentine Codex, 1545-1590

He who dies of epidemic disease is a martyr

Muhammad, c 630

Amid the confusion the plague spread rapidly, encouraged both by the misery and lawlessness of the people… The mayor reported that in Monte Lupo “twenty five houses had been closed, and we continually found more people sick with the contagious disease.” On June 4, Mayor Francesco della Stufa “passed to a better life,” and the gravediggers who had caused hem so much trouble in his life buried him after his death “in the cemetery of Cacciacane, because he had died of the plague…

Carlo M. Cipolla, Faith, Reason, and the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Tuscany, 1977