Boccaccio’s Account of the Plague
In Giovanni Boccaccio’s “A Most Terrible Plague” Boccaccio writes about the plague in a collection of stories told intimately between friends and family while they passed time away from Florence in the solitude and safety of the countryside. Boccaccio writes in a point of view unsure of the cause of the plague. He suggests that it could be sent from God or as a natural influence of the planets, but never clearly states his own opinion for its origination. No matter why it came, the Plague attacked the city of Florence with full force. It first started to appear as “tumors in the groin or under the armpits, some as big as a small apple, others as an egg; and afterwards purple spots in most parts of the body; in some cases large and but few in number, in others smaller and more numerous,” but then ended frequently in a rapid death. There was not enough medical knowledge to figure out the cause or an effective treatment; consequently, “nearly all died the third day from the first appearance of the symptoms, some sooner, some later, without any fever or accessory symptoms. What gave the more virulence to this plague, was that, by being communicated from the sick to the healthy, it spread daily, like fire when it comes in contact with large masses of combustibles.” It literally spread like fire not only by being around the sick, but by touching their belongings or something they had touched. The Plague’s unstoppable qualities drove the population to do many irrational things they would never do under regular circumstances. For example, many people fled Florence like Boccaccio and his friends did to safety once efforts with the sick were failing and terror took ahold of the city. Their departure can best be explained by humans fight or flight instinct. When the fight was unsuccessful they fled out of terror, “as if the wrath of God had been restrained to visit those only within the walls of the city.”...
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