Cocolitzli – the Great Plague – Mexico 1576 A.D.

In about 1575-6, Mexico was struck by the worst epidemic, the region had ever known. Witnesses there at the time spoke of half or even two thirds of the population succumbing – a higher mortality rate even than the Black Death. The Spanish physicians did not recognise any of the European diseases with which theyContinue reading “Cocolitzli – the Great Plague – Mexico 1576 A.D.”

Theriac – a Very Sovereign Remedy for the Plague – Galen c.166-170 A.D.

Theriac – the origin of our word treacle – is a complex medicine, some of the recipes for which sound like the witches’ incantation in Macbeth:     Double, double toil and trouble;     Fire burn and caldron bubble.     Fillet of a fenny snake,     In the caldron boil and bake…..     One version requiredContinue reading “Theriac – a Very Sovereign Remedy for the Plague – Galen c.166-170 A.D.”

Litany to St Roch – Protector against Plagues

St Roch – San Roque or San Rocco – was born in Montpellier in the 14th century. Devout from childhood, on his parents’ death, he gave his inheritance to the poor and set out for Rome. This was at a time when Italy was in the grip of a plague. At Cesena, Rimini and elsewhereContinue reading “Litany to St Roch – Protector against Plagues”

Samuel Pepys – The Great Plague London 1665

I had not planned to quote The Diary of Samuel Pepys, because it is so well known, but several people told me he should by no means be left out. His account is remarkable, because in spite of living through an epidemic which is estimated to have killed as many as 100 000 people outContinue reading “Samuel Pepys – The Great Plague London 1665”


                                                   For millennia, leprosy was one of the most feared diseases, but also one of the most mysterious, in part because any one of a range of skin complaints may have been mistakenly identified as leprosy.  It was believed to be highly contagious, hence lepers being exiled from their communities. But it also had aContinue reading “Leprosy”

Japan – Smallpox – 735-7 A.D. and after

tsuyu no yo watsuyu no yo nagarasari nagara This world of dewis truly a world of dew,and yet…and yet…. This poem was written by Issa, one of the greatest of the haiku poets, on the death of his little daughter. Issa’s life was a long series of tragedies, rarely referred to directly in his poetry.Continue reading “Japan – Smallpox – 735-7 A.D. and after”

Whether One May Flee a Deadly Plague – Martin Luther – 1527

Martin Luther was at Wittenburg, 56 miles SW of Berlin, when the plague arrived in August, 1527. Luther and other teachers were enjoined to leave, but he refused, although his son fell sick, the wives of two friends died and the monastery where he had his home was turned into a hospital. Before the plagueContinue reading “Whether One May Flee a Deadly Plague – Martin Luther – 1527”

Ibn al-Wardi – On the Advance of Plague – 1348

Ibn al-Wardi (1292-1348/9) was a Syrian historian and geographer. The Plague frightened and killed. It began in the land of darkness. Oh, what a visitor! It has been current for fifteen years. China was not preserved from it nor could the strongest fortress hinder it. The plague afflicted the Indians in India. It weighed uponContinue reading “Ibn al-Wardi – On the Advance of Plague – 1348”

Meditations in Time of Plague – Marcus Aurelius – c.161-180

The Meditations – literally “Things to One’s Self” – of the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is one of the best known and best loved works of philosophy. Teaching American students European history and culture in the early 2000s, it was almost invariably the text they picked out as being the most interesting and “relevant”. Marcus AureliusContinue reading “Meditations in Time of Plague – Marcus Aurelius – c.161-180”

In Praise of the Land of the Dead – a Harper’s Song – Egypt c.1300 B.C.

Some scholars consider that the description of a disease in the medical work known as the Ebers Papyrus (c.1500 B.C. but believed to be copied from earlier texts) refers to bubonic plague. It occurred to me that if this were the case, or if epidemics had been a feature of Pharaonic Egypt, there should beContinue reading “In Praise of the Land of the Dead – a Harper’s Song – Egypt c.1300 B.C.”