COVID-19 and the Black Death: Present and Past Collide

COVID-19 and the Black Death: Present and Past Collide
If you are a student of literature, you would have met Francesco Petrarch. His name is immortalised in the term Petrarchan sonnet, even though he didn’t develop the form.
He lived in the 14th century and survived the Black Death, the Plague that ravaged Eurasia between 1347 and 1351, killing millions of people.

Interestingly, that Plague started in the East before moving to Europe and, like the COVID-19 disease which is ravaging the world in 2020, it made a devastating pit stop in Italy of that time. Petrarch was Italian and reflected in many letters about the course of that Plague. One of his reflections has much resonance today.

 Kevin Shau, in an article on Medium,  shares some excerpts from Petrarch's letters that he wrote to his friend and fellow literary great, Giovanni Boccaccio. Of the passage of the Plague, Petrarch wrote:
“While I am lamenting in vain and unburdening my spirit of these sorrows, I am accusing men who cannot reply: if only, dear friend, they had followed you in physical action as they always did in purpose, and had been willing to lie low with us in our trusty home and retreat from the plague, which was so conspicuously laying waste to Rome and Naples. I rejoice that you did so and thank you for thinking my roof worthy to shelter in while our country was suffering from these same evils…We have mourned the year one thousand three hundred and forty-eight of this age. But now we realize it was only the beginning of mourning and this strange force of evil, unheard of through the ages, has not ceased since then, ready to strike on all sides, to the right and left like a most skilled fighter. So after sweeping across the whole world several times, now that no part is left unharmed, it has struck some regions twice, thrice and four times, and ruined some with annual sickness.” — Francesco Petrarch, from Selected Letters Vol. I (I Tatti Renaissance Library) p.93–99.
Note the underlined sections, my emphasis. Is this warning for our times? 

Petrarch’s friend, Giovanni Boccaccio, used the Plague as a backdrop for his acclaimed work: Decameron.

Many of us will soon experience quarantine in an attempt to keep COVID-19 at bay or are already experiencing it. If you are a writer or you like to write, why not use the outbreak of COVID-19 as a backdrop for your writing? Write a poem, a novel, a short story, a book - something - to immortalise the events of these times. You, too, like Petrarch and Boccaccio, can use a pandemic to create your masterpiece, which may reverberate across the ages.

Finally, there will be disruptions to life as countries try to slow the passage of the disease to avert a collapse of health systems. Cooperate. This too will pass. Err on the side of caution. Think about the elderly and the young, middle aged and old among us with underlying medical conditions. Let's do our part to stem the spread of this disease and save lives.

 I leave you with the following words of inspiration from Kerry Weber and Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM. 


Yes there is fear.

Yes there is isolation.

Yes there is panic buying.

Yes there is sickness.

Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

March 13th, 2020”

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About the Author

Janette B. Fuller is a ghost writer and author of four books. 

When you are ready to write your story and/or after you have written your story, make contact with her at She'll help you write your best story by helping you arrange your thoughts and/or edit your work. Check out her books here


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