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Center for Italian Studies Conference

2020 online Conference


Danza Macabra:  Ancient Pestilences and

Contemporary Pandemics

Wednesday, 28 October, 2020 - 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.


In order to participate, please click the following link a few minutes before the conference:


Introduces and co-ordinates:

Giuseppe Gazzola, Director, Center of Italian Studies

Welcome remarks:

Nicole Sampson, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Rick Nasti, Chairperson, Advisory Council, Center of Italian Studies

Francesco Genuardi, Consul General of Italy - New York 


 Antonino Urso , The Intimate Storm: Perception and Reactions of the  Individuals and Societies to the Attack of P andemics

Franco Cardini, Political and Cultural Changes as an Effect of the Pestilences and Pandemics through the Centuries: Case Studies

Kristina M. Olson,  Costor non saranno dalla morte vinti.  Invincibility in the Decameron:                      A Point of Reference for Any Literary  Dscourse on the Pandemics

Brandon Essary,  Giuochi e Sollazzi: Storytelling, Playing and Pandemics

Luigi Troiani,  How the Epidemics and Pandemics Affect the States’ Affairs and the International Relations: The Case of Covid-19

Delio Miotti, The Economics of Pandemics:  Useful Lessons from the Past

Carlo Maria Lolli GhettiDanza della Morte, Danse Macabre, Totentanz’:  Paintings and Sculptures. Is Covid-19’s Big Death Having its Artistic Celebration?


The listeners may request the floor.


Luigi Troiani,  Professor of International Relations, Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas, Rome.


  Authors and Abstracts


Antonino URSO

Professor of Social Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontifical University St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome. Cognitive behavioral psychologist. President, Italian Association of Group Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy. Editor-in-chief, Culture and Profession, the journal of Italian psychology.

“The Intimate Storm: Perception and Reactions of the Individuals and Societies to the Attack of the Pandemics.”

The advent of Covid-19 worldwide has led to consequences for people’s health, both physical and psychological, such as fear and anxiety. Together with the disease’s characteristics, such as its being airborne (i.e., perceived as imminent and invisible), further aspects such as uncertainty over the patients’ outcomes and the mandatory change of habits imposed by the governments to protect the population’s health, led many individuals to experience a generalized sense of fear. Comparisons with past historic pandemics teach a lot.



Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences / Scuola Normale. He has taught at the Universities of Bari, Florence, Middlebury (Vermont), Ecole des Hautes Etudes et Sciences Sociales (Paris), Paris VIII - Vincennes-Saint Denis, among others. He is a fellow of the Berenson Foundation - Villa I Tatti, Harvard University.

“Political and Cultural Changes as an Effect of the Pestilences and Pandemics through the Centuries: Case Studies.”

Epidemics as well as all disasters affecting human beings or the environment invariably bring about social, cultural and political changes. This is a general rule that should never be forgotten in historical studies but must be applied by carefully assessing the genesis, contexts and outcomes of the phenomenon on a case-by-case basis. The emerging case studies in human history, limited to the European one that is better known and more documented, are the so-called "Plague of Athens" or "of Pericles" (5th century BC); the plague called "Antonine" that broke out in the Roman Empire under the reign of Caracalla; the so-called "Justinian's" plague (6th century AD), the Black Death of 1347-1351 - of course - and the plague of 1630.

Kristina M. OLSON

Associate Professor of Italian in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University, where she has taught Italian language, literature and cinema since 2005. She is the author of Courtesy Lost: Dante, Boccaccio and the Literature of History (University of Toronto Press, 2014) and several articles on Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. She is the co-editor of: Open City: Seven Writers in Postwar Rome (Steerforth Press, 1997); Boccaccio 1313-2013 (Longo Editore, 2015); and Approaches to Teaching Dante’s Divine Comedy (second edition) with the Modern Language Association (2020). She is the President of the American Boccaccio Association.

Costor non saranno dalla morte vinti ”: Boccaccio's Strategy of Invincibility in the  Decameron"

At the beginning of the Ninth Day of the Decameron, the queen Emilia leads her fellow members of the brigata into a nearby forest, where they observe deer, stags, and other wild animals, who are at first not frightened by the presence of human beings. The animals' sense of invincibility is short-lived, however, for they soon take fright at the brigata's proximity. The storytellers then wreathe themselves with fronds and hold herbs and flowers in their hands, a sight which would inspire observers, as the Author tells us, to think that they will not be conquered by death -- or that they would welcome death with happiness. I trace the thematic of immortality across the novelle, concentrating in particular on how Boccaccio introduces metaphors related to the afterlife. In this way, the brigata develops a sense of invincibility: a narrative strategy for pandemic life.  


Brandon ESSARY

Associate professor of Italian, Italian Studies coordinator, and associate chair of the world languages and cultures department at Elon University (North Carolina, USA). His research focuses on: transmediation, and particularly when Italian history and literature are transformed into video games; the intersections of narratology and ludology, traditional literary narratives and digital game narratives; and the representation of marriage in the Decameron

“Giuochi e Sollazzi : Storytelling, Playing and Pandemics.”

At the outset of the  Decameron, Boccaccio, through the voice of Queen Pampinea, defines and contrasts “giuochi” and “sollazzi.” Exemplary “giuochi” are indicated: “tavolieri e scacchieri” ( Dec. I. Intro.110). “Sollazzi” and, in particular, that of “novellando,” is chosen by the queen because one person telling a story can bring pleasure to everyone listening. This presentation will analyze the distinction between “giuochi” and “sollazzi” from a ludological point of view. This interpretative lens will allow us to compare and contrast games and storytelling as voluntary activities with rules: within the context of the  Decameron, as well as more broadly regarding societies that face pandemics or similar crises. Finally, attention will be paid to the notion of the “win state” and how it relates to the theory of the sacred and profane.



Professor of International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontifical University St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome. Columnist of La Voce di New and America Oggi. President of Iscop, The Higher Institute of Communication and Public Opinion, Rome. His 2020’s books: La diplomazia dell’arroganza (edizioni l’Ornitorinco), Il cimento dell’armonizzazione La Corte di Giustizia Ue e i sistemi costituzionali nazionali (editor), (edizioni L’Ornitorinco), La letteratura italiana di ispirazione socialista (co-editor), (Forum Italicum special issue, Sage).

“How the Epidemics and Pandemics affect the States’ Affairs and the International Relations: the Case of Covid-19 .”

The states need stability and equilibrium to survive. The same can be said of the International System. In human history, one of the typical effect of the Pandemics has been the tendency to disrupt the states’ internal and international systems. The Covid-19 is not an exception. A model can be set to avoid that the disruption goes too further.



Professor of Demography and Economics at the Agrigento Agorà Mundi Center for Higher Education. Lecturer at the Master “Migration, Gender, Family Model and Inclusion Strategies” at the Sociology Department, University of Pavia. Co-author and Co-ordinator of the yearly Svimez annual Report on Southern Italy economics, and author of several essays on Development’s economics and demography. Head of Research at Svimez.

“The Economics of Pandemics: Useful Lessons from the Past.”

Historically, pandemics have marked critical discontinuities in history. They have had disruptive effects not only on the social relations within each single society, but also on the political and economic relations among societies previously connected. The Covid-19 pandemics has brought to new attention the long-period consequences of past pandemics. Analysing history might be useful in order to re-consider the effects exerted by public health emergencies on our economies and to better handle them. The XVII Century pest changed   the Italian economic and political geography and the structure of the North-South relations in Europe. It may account as an interesting case study for the present decisions to be taken.


  Carlo Maria LOLLI GHETTI

Professor of “Art Gallery Management” at Luiss Guido Carli University, Rome. Founder and General Manager of White Noise Gallery, Rome. Regular contributor to art catalogues and magazines, editor for Travel Retail Italy.

“Danse Macabre and the Perception of Death in Art. Will the Covid-19 be the turning point for contemporary art evolution?”

Art has always been asking questions about life and death and no other language has ever been able to better capture the zeitgeist. The Danse Macabre is one of the purest philosophical representations of death created after the plague pandemic that decimated Europe in 14 th century. How will the idea of death be affected by the Covid-19? Will this global declaration of vulnerability be the center of contemporary art researches in the next years?