The Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio lived through the plague as it ravaged the city of Florence in 1348. The experience inspired him to write The Decameron.
The Plague of 1665 in England was a major upheaval affecting Isaac Newton’s life.
The 1984 movie, A Passage to India (David Lean) set in 1920s India, has a scene where the ever-present lethal threat of cholera is discussed as Doctor Aziz lies sick of a fever.
The W. Somerset Maugham novel, The Painted Veil (2006 movie) is also about cholera in the Chinese countryside in the 1920s.
Manzoni’s 1827 The Betrothed, the most famous classic novel of Italian literature, centers on the plague to drive the story.
Etymologically, the term “pest” derives from the Latin word “pestis” (pest, plague, curse). Hardly any disease had such cultural and historical relevance as the bubonic plague. Throughout the centuries, the plague was the most terrifying infectious contagious disease which generated a series of demographic crises. The plague epidemics influenced the evolution of society biologically and culturally speaking. The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, is estimated to have killed 30%–60% of Europe’s population, reducing the world’s population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400. This has been seen as having created a series of religious, social and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover.
The plague returned at various times, killing more people, until it left Europe in the 19th century. Modern epidemiology (Dr. John Snow, London) has its roots in cholera management and water sanitation as well as waste management.
Education involves seeing disease as a major protagonist in all history and not as a footnote.
The classic Plagues and Peoples should accordingly be studied by every student: Plagues and Peoples is a book on epidemiological history by William Hardy McNeill, published in 1976.
It was a critical and popular success, offering a radically new interpretation of the extraordinary impact of infectious disease on cultures and world history itself.