‘They fell ill daily in their thousands … many fell dead in the open streets … such was the multitude of corpses there was not sufficient consecrated ground to bury them’. And: ‘the plague came from afar … that part of the world called Asia’. A historian in 2120 describing the horrors of a century earlier? Extracts from a comparative study of plagues and pestilence? An epidemic seen from the grassroots today? No, Boccaccio and Villani talking of events in Italy as the Black Death and other disasters wreaked their havoc, as quoted by Tim Parks in the introduction to his dispatch from northern Italy, ‘Milan in a time of coronavirus‘ in this week’s TLS (March 20, 2020). For descriptions of life in the plague-ridden Florence of 1630, see the review in the LRB (20 March, 2020) of John Henderson’s Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City (Yale UP 2019).