Book Club | Contagion

Member-Led at Online

Sun, Apr 19 at 3 p.m.   |   90 minutes
Clubs: Member-led conversations around books, films, etc.

Contagion Book Club, starting with History Of The Column Of Infamy by Alessandro Manzoni (1840), an analysis of the absurd and bloody panic that exploded in Milan during the Plague in the XVII Century

The Contagion Book Club will be led by Scenius member Angie Mauri.

Angie pitched this book club because she sees that history and literature are full of stories about contagions. In Angie's own words: Of the commentary I have heard about the spread of Covid-19 and the current state of emergency, a recurring one defines the situation "unreal". We are a long stretch from "normal", sure, but "unreal" is most definitely not a good definition of what is going on. In fact, quite the opposite is true. This is as real as can be. Through the lens of human history, rather than the limited one of personal history, one sees that pandemic diseases afflicted the world population time and time again throughout the centuries. We are facing a very scary and typically human plight. The danger is real, the consequences can be dire, emotions can go out of control and make people even more miserable than what we already need to be. What better than using art to catch up with reality?

To contextualize and process the fear and discomfort in these times, we will read and discuss the following books: History Of The Column Of Infamy by Alessandro Manzoni (1840), Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912), Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (1985), and Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1351).

For our first book, we will read History Of The Column Of Infamy by Alessandro Manzoni (1840), a deeply interesting and intelligent analysis of the absurd and bloody panic that exploded in Milan during the Plague in the XVII Century. Manzoni went down in literature history because he told "the story of the losers", forgotten until that point, as history was typically written by the people in power, while the people who had been beaten (or wronged) were considered by historians of no consequence for posterity. With a modern sensitivity, groundbreaking for the times, Manzoni inscribed his work in the Romanticism-Positivism movement and produced a dispassionate recount of a dramatic explosion of collective madness, gauging the psychological implications at play when the administration indulges the thirst for vengeance of the fear-crazed masses in order to reaffirm its power. In this historical essay the author presents the juridical documents and the known facts of a trial led by the Inquisition (Milan was under Spanish rule at the time) against two private citizens accused of being plague spreaders [untori] in the summer of 1630. The systematic use of torture and atrocious brutality and coarseness of the proceedings are appalling. The men were found guilty and executed, the shop of one of them razed to the ground. A column was erected as a memento on the rubble. In 1778 the column, also thanks to this text, had become a memento no longer of the infamy of the alleged culprits, but of the judges, so it was destroyed. A plaque, listing the tortures inflicted on the two men, survives today inside the City Museum in the local Castello Sforzesco.

This essay was published as an appendix to The Betrothed. A PDF of the book is available from Think Olio.

Teacher: Member-Led

This event is member-led.


Venue: Online

Zoom link will be sent upon signup.


Add to Calendar April 19, 20203 p.m. April 19, 2020 America/New_York Think Olio | Book Club | Contagion Contagion Book Club, starting with History Of The Column Of Infamy by Alessandro Manzoni (1840), an analysis of the absurd and bloody panic that exploded in Milan during the Plague in the XVII Century Online

What is Think Olio?


Think Olio is here to put the liberation back into the liberal arts.

Classically, the liberal arts, were the education considered essential for a free person to take an active part in civic life. To counter a humanities that has been institutionalized and dehumanized we infuse critical thinking, openness, playfulness, and compassion into our learning experience.

Read more about our mission, our story, and how we are doing this.

Scenius Membership

If Friday night lectures, museum field trips, and living room salons sound like your kind of thing, then you've found your people. We can't wait to welcome you to the Think Olio Scenius. More info


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Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.