Elisabeth Lee
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Elisabeth Lee

Bubonic Plague vs. COVID-19

The Bubonic Plague and COVID-19 are two of the most infamous global pandemics, but how similar are they really?

The Decameron was written by Giovanni Boccaccio during the Black Death in the early fourteenth century. The story follows ten young adults as they flee the city for the countryside in hopes of escaping the deadly disease ravaging their city. It is obvious that both the Bubonic Plague and COVID-19 are similar in that they are both global pandemics that had wreaked havoc on the world and killed many in its path. However, by delving deeper into these two pandemics it is evident that the similarities are far deeper than what is just on the surface.

14th century masks vs 21st century masks

In the Digital Short Interview, “The Decameron, Black Death, and COVID-19,” Massimo Riva begins the interview by explaining the parallels between the origins of both the Black Death and COVID-19. Surprisingly, both of these deadly pandemics had originated from China then spread across the world. Another shocking similarity between the two is that both diseases had also spread from an animal to a human.

The Decameron

In this interview Riva also describes human behavior and the ways that people were dealing with the Plague in terms of social distancing. He refers to The Decameron and the way the ten young adults fled to the countryside away from Florence in order to get away from the ravaging Plague. This is almost identical to the way that people in the Bay Area began to flee the cities for Lake Tahoe in hopes of avoiding COVID-19. The socioeconomic status of these people fleeing their cities is also similar in that only those who are wealthy are able to leave their homes for the countryside. The number of Bay Area natives fleeing to Lake Tahoe was so stupendous that it even caused the housing prices in Lake Tahoe to increase dramatically. In The San Francisco Chronicle J.K. Dineen explains,

“The COVID-19 pandemic has stoked a real estate boom throughout the Tahoe region, propelled by thousands of workers fleeing San Francisco and the broader Bay Area. Freed from the shackles of 9-to-5 office work, these white-collar workers are seeking mountain homes near open space and tranquility far from downtown high-rises. And they have the money to pay for it.”

In another Digital Short Interview done by Brown University, “The Decameron of Western Literature,” Ronald Martinez explains how popular The Decameron and other works of plague literature have been during our current pandemic. I found it extremely fascinating how there are so many works of western literature that revolve around pandemics, similar to the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently living through. Although this current pandemic has felt extremely new and unusual, it is almost comforting to know that global pandemics like this have also occurred in the past.

Depiction of the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century

It is interesting to note the many similarities between these the Black Death and COVID-19 pandemics, despite being over six hundred years apart. It is also interesting to note how similarly people from seven hundred years ago and people in modern times react to a pandemic.




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Elisabeth Lee

Elisabeth Lee

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