Show Less
Restricted access

The Theme of the Plague in Italian Letters


Vincenzo Traversa

Several poetic and prose compositions in early Italian literature contain references to the bubonic plague and other illnesses that were used in the language both literally and metaphorically. The first detailed description of a plague epidemic, however, was written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the introduction to The Decameron. It is a precise and dramatic view of the physical, social, and medical conditions of Florence during the epidemic of 1348. The Theme of the Plague in Italian Letters follows the subsequent developments, both in poetic and prose works, until the time of the plague of Milan of 1630. With the report of Giuseppe Ripamonti and other writers, the plague became not only a medical issue but also a topic involving the laws of the time as they appear in the trials of the presumed untori (spreaders of the disease). A combination of faith, fear, and superstition led the legal officials and the populace to imagine that the plague was a divine punishment and was deliberately spread by individuals of criminal nature. Arrests and trials involving interrogations and the use of merciless physical tortures (a legitimate procedure in Europe at that time) brought about a formidable reaction led by early humanitarians, such as Cesare Beccaria and Pietro Verri, who determined the eventual changes in the laws and legal procedures. The Plague of Milan of 1630 by Giuseppe Ripamonti, the treatise by L. A. Muratori Del Governo della Peste, 1720, and several interventions contributed to a series of radical changes that appeared in the works of Alessandro Manzoni, such as The Betrothed and The History of the Pillar of Infamy that are discussed in part or in full in this study.

Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Daniel Defoe: A Journal of the Plague Year; or Memorials of the Great Pestilence in London in 1665


| xxv →


Daniel Defoe

A Journal of the Plague Year; or Memorials of the Great Pestilence in London in 1665

Born in London in 1660, of lower middle class, he received a simple education, travelled in Europe, took up commerce, became bankrupt and was a prolific writer in several subjects. His various activities put him in the pillory in 1703 and in prison on several occasions. He died in 1731 leaving behind several hundred writings and many whose authorship is doubtful. He composed The True-Born Englishman; in journalism The Review and many general writings: A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal; A Journal of the Plague Year; in travels: A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain; The Complete English Tradesman; The Complete English Gentleman. In the field of the novel: Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders and Lady Roxana.

The A Journal of the Plague Year; or Memorials of the Great Pestilence in London, in 1665, was probably completed in 1722 “to take advantage of the strong excitement which the Plague of Marseilles had raised in the public mind and which was mingled with fearful apprehensions lest the infection should again be introduced into Great Britain,” wrote E. W. Briley in 1835. He states also that

in almost every age, and among even the most idolatrous nations, Pestilence has been regarded as an especial instrument of...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.