Florence Under Siege
Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City
https://yalebooks.co.uk/display.asp?k=9780300196344# (to order with free UK delivery)
In Florence Under Siege, John Henderson examines how a major city fought, suffered and survived the impact of plague. Going beyond traditional oppositions between rich and poor, this book provides a nuanced and more compassionate interpretation of government policies in practice, by recreating the very human reactions and survival strategies of families and individuals at all levels of society.
Each age faces the challenge of new diseases from cholera to AIDS and Ebola, but plague remains the paradigm against which reactions to epidemics are often judged. Early modern Italy, famous as the birthplace of the Renaissance, has long been portrayed as having developed public health policies which formed the basis of models developed in later centuries. This book, while focussing on seventeenth-century Florence, examines the Tuscan capital within a wider Italian and European context to assess the effect and real impact of these policies on the city, the neighbourhood, street and family. Writing in a vivid and approachable way, this book unearths the forgotten stories of doctors and administrators struggling to cope with the sick and dying, and the impact of plague on individuals and families through the personal diaries of the literate to the verbatim testimony in court cases of the poorer levels of society.
Many histories of public health concentrate on chronicling government policies, whereas here equal emphasis is placed on the lived experience. Underpinning this narrative is a vivid recreation of the stories and experiences of individuals who endured and survived the epidemic. Contemporary political and medical rhetoric often blamed disproportionately the lower levels of society as the spreaders and even cause of plague, but official measures are examined to establish their real impact on the whole population. These included the cordon sanitaire along the frontiers of the Tuscan state; sanitary surveys of the living conditions of the poor; inspection and locking up of infected houses. A range of treatments are examined from the plague doctor’s prescribing of the ‘miraculous’ drug of Theriac to the surgeons’ lancing of buboes to the complex recipes devised by empirics.