Epidemics: The end

Dossier "Epidemics. Perspectives from cultural studies"

© exc

The virologist Christian Drosten announced the end of the pandemic at the end of December 2022, and all regulations have now disappeared. But people are still becoming infected, and the occasional person can still be seen wearing a mask in public. So, is the pandemic over or not? It is said that we will simply have to live with Covid, and that the virus will become endemic – just like a “normal” virus. Three years of Covid is a long time. The question is whether this period and its restrictions have changed society and people’s lives, and how, and what the end of this period, which is somehow also not an end, means for people. The articles in this dossier explore how literature and the visual arts deal with the end of epidemics, which patterns of interpretation are invoked, and which modes of representation are employed.

Venice, Santa Maria della Salute
© Jens Niebaum

Staging the end of the plague in the early modern period: Venice 1631, and Vienna 1714. By art historian Jens Niebaum

The Covid pandemic has more or less petered out in Germany. Measures have gradually been scaled back or lifted altogether; most striking perhaps is that the obligatory wearing of a mask ended earlier here, later there, and apparently not at all elsewhere. The WHO’s declaration of the end of the pandemic on 5 May 2023 was more a bureaucratic act and had little significance for people.   More

Peter Brueghel the Elder (c. 1525/30–1569), The Wedding Dance (c. 1566)
© Detroit Institute of Arts

End without end? How literature depicts the end of epidemics. By literary scholar Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf (German studies)

In Albert Camus’ novel The Plague (1947), there are great celebrations when the devastating plague is finally over after nine months [...]. As great as the joy over surviving the epidemic is, sceptical undertones are also audible in the passage: “Tomorrow real life would begin again, with its restrictions”, and “for a few gay hours, in the rapture of escape”. More


The community of narrators in the church of Santa Maria Novella, in: Giovanni Boccaccio, the Decameron, MS italien 63, fol. 8r
© Bibliothèque nationale de France

Back to the beginning? The open end of the Decameron. By literary scholar Pia Claudia Doering (Romance studies)

As demonstrated by the examples in Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf’s dossier article “End without end? How literature depicts the end of epidemics”, how epidemics end does not seem to be a particularly central concern for literature. Boccaccio’s Decameron supports this finding: the collection of short stories begins with a detailed and dramatic description of the plague and the collapse of Florence’s urban order resulting from it. More