COVID-19, Manzoni, and Boccaccio: Pandemics in Italian Literature and Culture

This course examines three key pandemics in Italian history that have inspired literary and cultural outputs of exceptional quality: the Black Death of 1346-1353, the 1629-1631 Italian Plague, and the COVID-19 pandemic. We study the ramifications of the infamous medieval plague through the introduction and “The Story of Lisabetta” from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. Considered the first Italian novel, Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (1827) frames the main plot through the early modern plague centered in Milan, which moves the narrative forward particularly beginning in chapter 31. The COVID-19 pandemic led Paolo Giordano, a bestselling author, to publish his musings on contagion while in lockdowns in How Contagion Works (2020). Other texts complement these main primary materials in examining topics ranging from fear of diseases and xenophobia to wellbeing during isolation. We may consider reading Guido Morselli’s The Vanishing (1977) as a coda to the course.

Prerequisites: No prerequisites. Precludes credit for ITAL 409.

Language of instruction: English