Spencer Strub is a medievalist. He teaches in the Harvard College Writing Program. (March 2020)

NYR DAILY

Illness & Crisis, from Medieval Plague Tracts to Covid-19

Gilles Le Muisit: Black Death at Tournai, 1349

When the plague arrived at Catalonia’s doorstep in April 1348, the learned physician Jacme d’Agramont wrote to address the “doubts and fears” rising around him. He laid out, in a treatise written in Catalan to the civil authorities in his hometown of Lleida, a set of reasonable preventative measures that anyone could take. The air was likely putrefied because of sin, so confession should be the first priority. Sex and baths must be avoided, because they open one’s pores and allow noxious airs to enter. A fearful imagination would only make matters worse.