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College of Arts and Sciences

Teaching plague literature when plague is no longer a metaphor

July 16 2020

Hunter Gardner, a classics professor in the Department of Languages, Literature and Culture, studies plagues in literature and what the stories about plagues tell about humanity. She has studied connections between modern zombie films and ancient Roman texts. She wrote a book about it, Pestilence and the Body Politic in Latin Literature.

That made her a go-to expert for friends and colleagues wanting to learn what literature can teach about the COVID-19 pandemic. But she found herself speechless as a pandemic became a real experience rather than a metaphor enshrined in the text.

Gardner wrote about her experience in a recent essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education. The essay describes the inspiration for Gardner's scholarly studies, the struggle to speak about plague metaphorically when it has become real, and the opportunity to make meaning in the real-life pandemic.

"The narratives we choose to believe and retell will reflect and affirm what we value as a species — a daunting task, but also an empowering one" she writes in the essay.

Read her essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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