Murphys Haystacks - Mortana, South Australia


What is a plague as distinct from The Plague?

A good explanation of the terms pandemic, plague and The Plague can be found at this site.

Just to quote a few sentences - 

"What makes a plague a plague?

We don’t use the word plague only to refer to the infectious disease specifically caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis.

Plague can also mean “an epidemic disease that causes high mortality” or “pestilence.” More figuratively, plague can mean “any widespread, calamity, or evil,” especially one considered a direct punishment by God.

These senses of plague probably bring to mind biblical plagues, such as the plagues of Egypt, which were ten disasters God inflicted on Egypt, including swarms of locusts, hordes of frogs, a scourge of boils, pestilence of livestock, and the death of firstborn sons.

Pestilence is defined as “a deadly or virulent epidemic disease,” especially the bubonic plague. It’s not clear, though, exactly what type of disease was meant in the Bible."

A Timeline of Plagues

The following provides a very quick and dramatic sweep of most of the major plagues/pandemics in the past couple of millenia.

Timeline of Pandemics and Plagues (165-2020 CE)

Read about plagues

The Plague - one example

The Plague associated with the Black Death was bubonic plague which affected the lymph glands, whereas the pneumonic plague attacks the lungs, and the septicemic plague is a life-threatening infection of the blood.

We can learn from how people behaved in response to former pandemics. Probably the best known instance in the English speaking world was the response of the Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1666. This became known as the Plague Village. We shall not rehearse the whole story here, but point the visitor to some useful sources. The Plague arrived in a bolt of cloth and began to spread in the village. What makes this village remarkable in the history of the Black Death is that they decided to isolate themselves from the surrounding populations. They stayed and risked their own lives to save those in neighbouring villages. Indeed many did die because of this incredible, gracious act of self-sacrifice. Although they were not the first to isolate in time of plague their model has become a hallmark of plague containment ever since.

Eyam plague - the story

The story of Eyam in 1665-1666 has captured the imagination over the past three centuries, but never more so than in 2020 as folk seek inspiration to help cope with the novel coronavirus. A quick Google or YouTube search will yield dozens of hits. A simple, but compelling telling of the story can be found at -

Year of Wonders

A moving, fictionalized account of this event in Eyam can be found in the novel -

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. This can be found for purchase online as an eBook or hard copy, or can be borrowed from your library.

If you wonder how more than 300 years later Eyam is responding to the Coronavirus threat watch -

How Eyam in Derbyshire 'self-isolated'  

There is an almost inexhaustible supply of essays, novels, treatises and the like written about pandemics. We probably each have our favourites that focus or at least touch on this awful topic. Samuel Pepys’ diary is a favourite of mine. From a recent press report I was reminded of the following.

The plague first entered Pepys’ consciousness enough to warrant a diary entry on April 30, 1665: “Great fears of the Sickness here in the City,” he wrote, “it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”

Pepys’ diary entry on April 30, 1665

Albert Camus - La Peste  (The Plague)

I have re-read this novel during the quarantine with a degree of awe. It may well deserve one accolade as being the best novel of the second half of the twentieth century. Camus, philosopher and novelist describes life, death and the struggle of people to understand themselves and what is happening in the quarantined city of Aron.

This short piece describes it very well.

Albert Camus - The Plague

This article relates it to the current pandemic.

Albert Camus novel The Plague leads surge of (interest in) pestilence fiction

The Plague also can be bought cheaply online or borrowed from your library. 

A study of past pandemics reveals a range of human responses and uneven impacts on various socioeconomic groups. Our behaviour in the current pandemic is to a large degree informed by the human experience of previous experiences. However an individual’s or a group’s ability to cope with a serious threat like COVID-19 depends upon the level of control they have to respond in appropriate ways. Reactions are constrained by the context in which this individual or group functions. For instance those who are homeless cannot ‘shelter in place’ nor the poor escape their overcrowded housing. Conversely the wealthy Lord of the Manor in Eyam in 1665 was the only one in that village to flee the plague with his family until it was safe to return. Similarly many of the wealthy from badly affected cities like New York in 2020 isolated in their rural estates. 

The next part of this essay considers the social, economic, and environmental context of the current pandemic.


Link to - Part 2 - Context of the COVID-19 pandemic