Darwin Lecture Series - Plagues & Metaphors

Darwin College Lecture Series 2014 –  "Plagues & Metaphor"
Dr Rowan Williams, University of Cambridge


Language about ‘plague’ rather than – say – ‘epidemic’ introduces elements of moral and theological interpretation into our view of a situation: plague is something ‘inflicted’, and is conceived against the background of certain kinds of biblical and classical narratives (the plagues of Egypt, Oedipus at Thebes, etc.). While this is by no means defunct (with some very unpleasant recent applications) the overall climate has changed. But it is still possible to reach for this language as a metaphorical structure – Camus, Garcia Marquez – which highlights aspects of the moral urgencies and ambiguities of a situation. The lecture will look at both the background usage and its modern transformations so as to draw out some thoughts on the nature of human limits and human responsibilities. 

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