coromandal


πλάνης vagabond fever

A Plague, a Cure and Some Art: the Museum of Medical Sciences

A wandering star, a stranger in town, and a highly contagious plague are inextricably related in the minds of the ancients. In the western tradition, Greece and Rome, the universe was moral. Lives were defined, prescribed and ordered by the gods, the law, the state, and the family. Things outside of this bounded universe were treated with suspicion, a very human instinct.

Stars that moved in unrecognized patterns, and foreigners who wandered into town were unknown and from away and engendered caution and fear. They were named for their outsider status. Plagues were foreign too, they invaded the sanctity of the community and killed its members, and were named with the same words as the stars and drifters.

 The Stoics, believers in an interdependent cosmos, looked to the night sky to augur our predestined lives. Of particular interest to all these ancients was the stella erratica, or “errant star,” so called for its shifting location. (Our familiar constellations, by contrast, remain fixed in the firmament.) Romans borrowed a word from the Greeks to denote these celestial strays: planeta, or “planet.”

Derived from the verb “to wander,” the original Greek noun πλάνης was applied to more than just Mars and Saturn—in Euripides’s Bacchae, to take just one example, it refers to a “vagabond” who comes to town. Among the physicians of the ancient world, including Hippocrates himself, πλάνης could also mean “fever,” a pestilence that migrates from person to person. The Romans, of course, had their own words for disease—morbuspestis—but they adopted this astronomical language in their own medical writings too, using the Latin cognate. In one account, planeta refers to a fever with an “unrestrained onset.” In another, planetae are those illnesses that obey neither finite duration nor predictable prognosis.

Gore Viral, How We Got Our Language of Infectious Disease, By Charles McNamara, May 6, 2020



difficulty in dying
May 8, 2020, 8:14 pm
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Looking back at 'La Peste' by Albert Camus - The Hindu

How very lonely dying must be. How much more lonely today as we isolate to keep the virus from spreading.

In normal circumstances, confined to bed whether at home or in hospital, with media – a book and a TV perhaps – the nurse, the occasional visitor for company, but mostly we’re left with our memories of people we miss and of friendships. Our thoughts form around muffled sounds of talking in the hall, pets in the courtyard, household work, local construction. The curtain, window and door are important thresholds that let in the outside to enliven our minds. The images are pleasurable as each reminds and promises us of our deep connection to the world.

In the time of cholera and covid, the isolation is even worse without visitors, and wary nurses suited in layers of protective equipment, gloves and masks.

Our towns play roles in our relative isolation when sick. At the start of his novel La Peste, excerpted below, Albert Camus’ narrator tells us – before the rats start to die, before the concierge catches the deadly plague – how lonely death can be, and how the conditions of death can vary widely depending on the conditions of the place you inhabit. The town he describes, Oran in North Africa, is a scrappy place, uninspiring, with hardscrabble business affairs, hot and dry with climate extremes and dark nights. All are features that conspire to attenuate the discomfort of an invalid – he hears the despair of the city and and is unsettled.

There is a hint in the passage that an environment can help us to die better. A place that is “inspiring” and affords “small attentions,” and “something to rely on,” render comfort to the sick. These aren’t physical attributes, they’re intangibles. A pandemic by definition circles the globe and the conditions for the sick vary widely from luxurious to squalor. But thankfully, inspiration, support and attention are intangibles that can be built into any place on the planet. This is how we support the sick and dying in the time of covid.

What is more exceptional in our town is the difficulty one may experience there in dying. “Difficulty,” perhaps, is not the right word, ‘discomfort” would come nearer. Being ill’s never agreeable but there are towns that stand by you, so to speak, when you are sick; in which you can, after a fashion, let yourself go. An invalid needs small attentions, he likes to have something to rely on, and that’s natural enough. But at Oran the violent extremes of temperature, the exigencies of business, the uninspiring surroundings, the sudden nightfalls, and the very nature of its pleasures call for good health. An invalid feels out of it there. Think what it must be for a dying man, trapped behind hundreds of walls all sizzling with heat, while the whole population, sitting in cafes or hanging on the telephone, is discussing shipments, bills of lading, discounts! It will then be obvious what discomfort attends death, even modern death, when it waylays you under such conditions in a dry place.

La Peste, Albert Camus