From an Historic Egyptian plague to the Black Dying and Spanish flu, epidemics have usually spurred societal transformations. Understanding why may help us create a greater world after covid-19


18 July 2022

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Pete Reynolds

FIRST the pharaoh modified his title, from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten. Then he decreed {that a} new capital ought to be constructed distant from the outdated one. And on this metropolis, one god ought to be worshipped, forsaking all others: the solar god Aten. Akhenaten’s heresy didn’t final lengthy, ending along with his demise lower than 20 years later. It was a blip within the 3000 years of cultural stability that characterises Historic Egypt, however its enduring hint in artwork and thought locations it among the many most debated spiritual revolutions of all time. One frequent rationalization is that Akhenaten was fed up with the highly effective monks within the outdated capital of Thebes, who worshipped many gods.

However what if he was really fleeing an epidemic? The thought isn’t new, nevertheless it has loved a revival since covid-19 arrived. Having lived by way of the worst pandemic in a century, many Egyptologists and archaeologists are wanting again with contemporary eyes. They’ve seen first-hand the social affect a pandemic can have – the exacerbation of inequality, rejection of authority, xenophobia and seek for that means – and realised that these in all probability aren’t with out precedent.

“Communicable illness performs a cultural and financial function that’s repeated by way of time, as much as the current day,” says Louise Hitchcock on the College of Melbourne, Australia. Witnessing how tightly entwined social discord, viral concepts and actual viruses are, Hitchcock and others are asking if this might clarify main cultural shifts all through historical past, from Akhenaten’s time to the Black Dying and 1918 flu. Might it even clarify among the ideological crosswinds that buffet us now, and which will form the post-covid world?

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