Are there instances in literature and poetry similar to the Covid-19 situation?

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Global pandemics such as the Covid-19 outbreak have appeared in many pieces of literature and poetry. Some examples of this are The Peloponnesian War and The Canterbury Tales, and in many cases the diseases in question are personified as Death.

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Situations similar to the covid-19 pandemic have occurred many times in history and have been dealt with frequently in poetry and literature in general.

The plague that struck Athens in 430 BCE is discussed extensively in The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. This was a disease far worse than what has been seen of the corona virus so far. The same is true of the bubonic plague, or "Black Death," that struck Europe in the mid 1300s CE and by some estimates killed off more than half the population.

Though Geoffrey Chaucer was only a child during this pandemic, it obviously left a lasting mark on his psyche as it did with everyone. In his poetry he indirectly chronicles both the pestilence and Europe's recovery from it. In The Canterbury Tales, written less than fifty years after the height of the plague, one senses a buoyancy among the characters, a zest for living that reveals humanity can recover from the greatest catastrophes. At the same time, in the character of the Pardoner and his Tale, the legacy of the plague has continued. In the Pardoner's Tale we are told that the pestilence has wiped out whole villages, that Death personified is walking among us. The three ruffians who think they can destroy Death are destroyed by their own greed, a metaphor of the sinfulness for which the medieval mind believed God punished humanity for in the form of the plague.

In much more recent times, Thomas Mann, in his novella Death in Venice, uses an epidemic as a metaphor of a man's spiritual deterioration. Uncannily, this story is an uncomfortable reflection of our own time, given that the cholera epidemic strikes northern Italy and has reportedly spread there from Asia. Plagues of various sorts have been frequent subjects for science fiction and dystopian literature, as in Richard Matheson's I am Legend, where in addition to being killed off en masse, the population are resurrected as zombie-like vampires.

Literary treatments of communicable illness are partly based on scientific reality, but more often than not focus on an extra-scientific or surreal aspect of disease, using it as a metaphor of human weakness and moral failure. How the corona virus will be dealt with in future literature, if at all, is anyone's guess.

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