The Lessons of the Pandemic

A colleague and friend of mine, Professor Mariana Cabral de Oliveira (Biology Institute, Universidade de São Paulo), shared with me the article by Major George A. Soper, “The Lessons of the Pandemic”, published in Science magazine 100 years ago.

It is quite impressive to read the paper by Major Soper, in special the conclusions.

Some highlights of the paper.

The pandemic which has just swept round the earth has been without precedent. There have been more deadly epidemics, but they have been more circumscribed; there have been epidemics almost as widespread, but they have been less deadly. Floods, famines, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have all written their stories in terms of human destruction almost too terrible for comprehension, yet never before has there been a catastrophe at once so sudden, so devastating and so universal.

The most astonishing thing about the pandemic was the complete mystery which surrounded it. Nobody seemed to know what the disease was, where it came from or how to stop it. Anxious minds are inquiring to-day whether another wave of it will come again.

The fact is that although influenza is one of the oldest known of the epidemic diseases, it is the least understood. Science, which by patient and painstaking labor has done so much to drive other plagues to the point of extinction has thus far stood powerless before it. There is doubt about the causative agent and the predisposing and aggravating factors. There has been a good deal of theorizing about these matters, and some good research, but no common agreement has been reached with respect to them.

The measures which were introduced for the control of the pandemic were based upon the slenderest of theories. It was assumed that the influenza could be stopped by the employment of methods which it was assumed would stop the other respiratory diseases. This double assumption proved to be a weak reed to lean upon. The respiratory diseases as a class are not under control. They constitute the most frequent cause of death, yet it is not known how they can be prevented.

Three main factors stand in the way of prevention: First, public indifference. […]

The second factor which stands in the way of prevention is the personal character of the measures which must be employed. […]

Third, the highly infectious nature of the respiratory infections adds to the difficulty of their control. […]

The conclusions by Soper:

It is worth while to give more attention to the avoidance of unnecessary personal risks and to the promotion of better personal health. Books have been written on the subject. The writer’s idea of the most essential things to remember are embodied in the following twelve condensed rules which were prepared in September, recommended by the Surgeon-General of the Army and published by order of the Secretary of War to be given all possible publicity:

1. Avoid needless crowding-influenza is a crowd disease.

2. Smother your coughs and sneezes-others do not want the germs which you would throw away.

3. Your nose, not your mouth was made to breathe through-get the habit.

4. Remember the three C’s-a clean mouth, clean skin, and clean clothes.

5. Try to keep cool when you walk and warm when you ride and sleep.

6. Open the windows-always at home at night; at the office when practicable.

7. Food will win the war if you give it a chance-help by choosing and chewing your food well.

8. Your fate may be in your own handswash your hands before eating.

9. Don’t let the waste products of digestion accumulate-drink a glass or two of water on getting up.

10 Don’t use a napkin, towel, spoon, fork, glass or cup which has been used by another person and not washed.

11. Avoid tight clothes, tight shoes, tight gloves-seek to make nature your ally not your prisoner.

12. When the air is pure breathe all of it you can-breathe deeply.

The article by George A. Soper can be read here, if you have access to Science magazine.

Ref: Soper, G. A. Lessons of the Pandemic. Science,  30 May 1919, Vol. 49, Issue 1274, pp. 501-506. DOI: 10.1126/science.49.1274.501

A Tribute to Italia

Italia is, together with Greece, the cradle of western civilization, although such assumption cannot be considered as definitive. Western civilization has been strongly influenced by Eastern Mediterranean countries, and those by Asian nations.

Historians, however, consider Italia as one of the most influential countries on human culture. It is not necessary to make a long description of Italia’s cultural importance. Along with Greece, Italian philosophy has been very influential since ancient times, thanks to work of many thinkers such as Seneca, Epictetus, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Giordano Bruno, Galileo Galilei, Antonio Gramsci, just to mention the perhaps some of the most well-known. Italian writers produced some of the finest examples of literary works, including those of Dante Alighieri, Dino Buzzati, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, Giacomo Leopardi, Primo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Luigi Pirandello, Giuseppe T. di Lampedusa and many others.


Leonardo da Vinci and his painting La Belle Ferronnière, c. 1495

Italian painters achieved perhaps the most significant works ever, considering the genius of Leonardo da Vinci, but also of Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio and Modigliani.

The Italian science has always been very strong and at the frontier of knowledge. Some of the best known Italian scientists are Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Evangelista Torricelli (who invented the barometer), Marcello Malpighi (who was one of the first to develop microscopy and histology), Francesco Redi (who, before Louis Pasteur, proved that spontaneous generation was a wrong conception), Maria Gaetana Agnesi (the first highly-reputed female mathematician), Lazzaro Spallanzani (the father of artificial insemination), Luigi Galvani (the discoverer of “animal electricity”), Alessandro Volta (the inventor of battery), Stanislao Cannizzaro (a chemist who started to organize the elements in a rational way), Enrico Fermi (a highly influential physicist contemporary of Albert Einstein), Maria Montessori (an innovative educator, whose ideas are now adopted in more than 20.000 schools worldwide).

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799)

The Italian cinema transformed many times the movie culture, because of its impressive diversity and creativity. Most recognized Italian film directors are Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Vittorio de Sica, Federico Fellini, Vittorio Gassman, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, among many others. The Italian visual arts also has numerous awarded artists, too numerous to be mentioned.

The Italian history and culture is rich, very rich. Italia is a small country with an enormous soul, generous, funny, thoughtful, gorgeous, bold, ahead of time.

Try some Italian music. Puccini’s arias and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons are two of the most played classical music compositions ever. But Italian classical music has a much more diverse collection of compositions, by more than 400 composers over time.

In this tribute to Italy, I selected 13 classical music pieces here. This very short selection includes 193 minutes of Italian music. Or a little more than 3 h. It is not much. I think that today Italy deserves much more than 3 h of our time.

Arcangelo Corelli Concerto Grosso Nr.8 op. 6 (13:34 minutes)

Corelli was born in 1653 in the small town of Fusignano. Corelli composed 48 trio sonatas, 12 violin and continuo sonatas, and 12 concerti grossi.

Tomaso Albinoni – Adagio for Organ and Strings (9:11 minutes)

Albinoni was born in Venice in 1671. His instrumental music (99 sonatas, 59 concerti and 9 sinfonie) is significant, among other works.

Antonio Vivaldi Concerto L´Amoroso RV 271 in E Major (10:43 minutes)

Vivaldi was an extremly prolific composer. Born in Venice in 1678, Vivaldi wrote more than 500 concertos for solo instrument and strings, 230 for violin, for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola d’amore, recorder, lute, or mandolin. About forty concertos are for two instruments and strings, and about thirty are for three or more instruments and strings. He also composed 46 operas, sacred choral music, simphonies, 90 sonatas and chamber music.

Domenico Scarlatti – Sonata in B minor, K. 27 (4:17 minutes) – you will need to clic the link inside the Youtube picture to listen the sonata.

Scarlatti was born in Naples in 1685. Son of another outstanding composer, Alessandro Scarlatti, he is mainly known for his 555 keyboard sonatas.

Leonardo da Vinci: Canto di lanzi sonatori di rubechine (4:06 minutes)

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci was also a music composer?

Giuseppe Tartini: Devil’s Trill Sonata (15:55 minutes)

Tartini was born in Piran (1692). Tartini’s works include violin concerti (at least 135), violin sonatas, sacred works, a Stabat Mater, trio sonatas and a symphony.

Giovanni Battisti Pergolesi׃ Stabat mater, for soprano & alto (43:54 minutes)

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was born in Jesi (1710). We was one of the first composers of the opera bufa (comic opera). He wrote several operas and also sacred works, numerous instrumental works, including a violin sonata and a violin concerto.

Luigi Boccherini – Guitar quintet Nr. 9 C-Dur, G 453 “La ritirata di Madrid” (32:08 minutes)

Boccherini was born in Lucca (1743). He composed the largest collection of cello works, and also keyboard pieces, violin solo pieces and duets, string trios, piano trios, trio sonatas, string quartets, piano quartets, flute quartets, wind quartets, string quintets, piano quintets, flute quintets, guitar quintets, sextets, octets, cello concertos, symphonies, music for theatre and vocal works.

Niccolò Paganini – La Campanella (7:00 minutes)

Paganini is considered the most achieved violin composer ever. Many of his violin works are extremely difficult to play. He also composed for guitar and orchestra.

Gioachino Antonio Rossini, La gazza ladra (overture) (9:35 minutes)

Gioachino Antonio Rossini was born in Pesaro (1792). Rossini was another very prolific composer, who wrote several cantatas, pieces of instrumental music, sonatas, sacred music and secular vocal music. His operas are considered among the most appreciated by the public, such as Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – Guitar Concerto Op.99 (21:41 minutes)

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born in Florence (1895). He was another hardworker: his list of compositions is almost endless.

Ottorino Respighi – Fontane di Roma (17:33 minutes)

Respighi was born in 1879 in Bologne. He composed music for operas, ballets, vocal and coral music, orchestral music and chamber music.

Luciano Berio – Ritirata notturna di Madrid de Boccherini (7:34 minutes)

Berio was born in Oneglia (1925). His music is considered as seminal in the 20th century. He composed music for piano, orchestra, several solo instruments, and also vocal music.

If you appreciated this small selection of Italian classical music, just share it. While listening to it, think of Italian people. Or about all of us.