Friday, January 7, 2022

Musings on Covid and Livy on the Plague


Here we are, in the third year of the plague, and for whole days I forget about the virus.  It is as though we poor humans do not have the capacity to hold too much in our minds. Vaccinated and boosted, I am now on automatic when I go out.  I wear a mask and still try to social-distance.

The headlines report a record number of cases in the U.S. I have  read that cloth masks are inadequate against Omicron, and that we should switch to three-ply surgical masks.  So, yes, all right, I'm ready to go surgical.   In 2022, with Covid still spreading and mutating, I am astonished by how little we knew, how much we still have to learn, how quickly a cure was found (vaccination), and how puzzling it is that people rage against the vaccine.

I read a short account of the plague in Livy's History of Rome (Ab urbe condita libri), and am sure the Romans would have run to line up for vaccination. But Tullus Hostilius, the third king of Rome, was in complete denial at first.  

When the plague struck Rome, the people were keen on social distancing and staying home, but the king, Tullus Hostilius (672-641 B.C.), thought they should carry on.

Below is my rough translation of the excerpt Livy.  I've tried to leave out the neverthelesses and indeeds, but have kept the passive voice.

Not long afterwards Rome was ravaged by the plague.  And though the men were reluctant to serve in the military then, they were given no leave by the warlike king, who actually believed that men of military age would be healthier in the army than at home, until he himself was struck by the plague.  Then his fierce spirit was so broken that he  became a slave to superstitions, great and small, and bombarded the people with religion, which he had previously dismissed as no concern of kings.  Now the Romans generally wished to return to the old traditions of King Numa, and believed the only remedy for the disease was to plead for peace and forgiveness from the gods.  

They say that the king himself unrolled the scrolls of Numa's commentaries, where he learned of occult sacrificial rites once performed to  Jupiter.  The king secretly devoted himself to these ceremonies.  But the rites were not properly begun or prepared, and not only did no god appear to him,  but by the rage of Jupiter he was struck by a thunderbolt and consumed by fire at home.  

Tullus ruled with great glory for 32 years.  
So what happened to end the plague?  Livy switches to an account of the next king's reign.