Andrea Pin is Associate Professor of Comparative Public Law, University of Padua
The spread of COVID-19 in Italy is bringing to the surface various aspects of the country’s popular culture and the role of faith. The rapid contagion that in three weeks has claimed more than 1,000 lives, filled hospitals’ intensive care units, frozen the economy, and forced Italians to stay home, is pushing people to reconsider their priorities and how they pursue them.
For many Italians, staying at home is hard—the stereotype that Italians like socializing turns out to be true. The fear and the experience of deadly diseases are a staple in Italian culture. Paintings of Saint Rocco, the protector from the black plague, are everywhere. Students learn Italian literature of the fourteenth century through reading Boccaccio’s Decameron (a point of reference for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), which revolves around the 1348 black plague in Florence. They know of cholera through the late nineteenth-century novel Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga. But what immediately comes to an Italian’s mind over these past few weeks is Alessandro Manzoni’s masterpiece The Betrothed, a mid-nineteenth century novel that depicts the 1630 black plague in Milan. Students study it so thoroughly that they often come to hate it. The COVID-19 epicenter has been Milan and its surroundings, making the emotional connection with The Betrothed particularly strong. (more…)