Thursday, February 24, 2005

Ducks instead of rats this time.

NPR and the San Francisco Chronicle have been covering the efforts to stop a new bird flu from starting an epidemic. Here's the account of a Franciscan friar of the Black Death's arrival in Messina in the 14th century:

"Soon Messina began to empty out. Friar Michele speaks of crazed dogs running wild on deserted streets, of nighttime fires winking from crowded fields and vineyards around the city, of dusty, sun-drenched roads filled with sweaty, fearful refugees, of sick stragglers wandering off to nearby woods and huts to die. He also describes several incidents of what sound, to a modern sensibility, like magical realism but were probably incidents of panic-induced hysteria. In one, 'a black dog with a naked sword in its paw' rushes into a church and smashes the silver vessels, lamps, and candlesticks on the altar. In another, a statue of the Blessed Virgin comes alive en route to Messina and, horrified by the city's sinfulness, refuses to enter. 'The earth gaped wide,' says Friar Michele, 'and the donkey upon which the statue of the Mother of God was being carried became as fixed and immovable as a rock.'"

from John Kelly, The Great Mortality (reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post)

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