When the great Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta visited Damascus in 1348 it was in the throes of a great plague which killed half of the population. Even so, he reported ‘God lightened their affliction; for the number of deaths in a single day at Damascus did not attain 2,000, while in Cairo it reached the figure of 24,000 a day’. Humankind has always struggled with illness and the experiences of different cities and countries have been compared and connected for thousands of years.
Plague, pestilence and pandemics have been part of the human story through the ages and have been reflected on at every turn. Many great authors have left us their eyewitness accounts or survivor stories. From the plagues of ancient Egypt recorded in Genesis to the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages to Covid-19, this anthology contains intimate, revelatory accounts. Across the world the array of human responses ranges from rage, despair, the blackest of humour, heartbreak and, finally, hard-won hope that it may all be over before so many of these events recede into the fog of history. Peter Furtado’s anthology places the human experience at the centre of the story.