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What ‘Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa’ Teaches About Our Own Plague-Stricken Time

Martin Kramer

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Mosaic

April 21, 2020


The painting and the historical scene it depicts remind us that many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic—from equipment rationing to ‘Orient blaming’ to political clashes with medical science—are nothing new.

“The appearance of Bonaparte in Palestine was only like the passing of a terrible meteor, which, after causing much devastation, again disappears.” This was the verdict of the great Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz, who was referring to Napoleon Bonaparte’s short-lived invasion of Palestine in 1799. One possible reason for Napoleon’s failure was the plague. This is the point at which a huge neoclassical masterpiece comes in...

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