As the Covid pandemic rages on, albeit at a lower level of transmission, we can never be sure that it will go away. In fact, there seems to be a growing acceptance around the world now that Covid-19 will be in our midst for a long time and we need to be fully vaccinated against it to keep it at bay. Governments are giving up on a zero-Covid strategy as it is being reported in media.
Meanwhile, we also need to be on guard and watch out for new variants. Delta alone has proven to be stubborn beyond anyone’s expectations. The fight against Covid then has become a question of vulnerability. For this month’s edition of Ovid in The Time of Covid, I use the story of Achilles and his fight with Cygnus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to speak of our vulnerabilities against the virus, with Delta becoming our Achilles’ heel.
More than a year has passed
Since the virus first struck
Unsuspecting people everywhere massed
Against an enemy without any luck.
Until science came to the rescue
And helped armour us with vaccines
Giving medicine its full due
Never did the world see such vulnerable beings.
Waves of the pandemic spread from here to there
There was no escape it seemed for mankind
Through travel and contact, the virus trapped us in its lair
What terrible loss of life, millions trapped in such a bind.
Delta proved the most hardened variant
No fight against it was tough as steel
It spread the fastest against the most valiant
Fighting it became our Achilles’ heel.
Sigaeum’s strand was red with gore: — the Son of Neptune,
Cygnus, with a thousand deaths
Had thinned the Grecian host, when through the ranks
Of Hion, from his car with Pelian spear
Wide dealing death, Achilles crashed, and, chief
With Hector or with Cygnus hot to cope,
With Cygnus first encountered, Hector’s fall
To the long war’s last year, the Fates deferred.– Achilles and Cygnus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XII, Lines 99-106
Like Achilles who couldn’t kill Neptune’s son
The conventional way, we too will have to try
Ways beyond vaccines, even with boosters done
Even though borders are reopening, beckoning us to fly.
Staying masked, distant and at home
As much as our life permits
Is the life we are getting used to
Living like digital nomads or hermits.
“Contemptuous, that thy weapon draws no blood?
This helm whose nodding horse-hair fans my brows,
This shield whose bossy burden loads my arm,
Are but mere warrior-trappings, borne for show,
Not need. So Mars for ornament alone
Superfluous harness wears. Strip me of all
This idle casing, and invulnerable “
I front thee still – of no mere Nereid born…”– Achilles and Cygnus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XII, Lines 116-124
Never assuming we’re invulnerable
Or invincible in this fight
Defence can sometimes be a form of attack
Avoiding confrontation and the plight.
Reducing the chances of contracting
What can be a lethal virus
Hoping that mitigating its transmitting
Might eventually deliver us.
Other measures require our consideration
Like boosting our immunity levels
Meat consumption too calls for moderation
All ways of keeping away the evils
That we have allowed to ruin our lives
And the planet we depend upon
Time to reexamine our lives
And urgently reduce the harm we pass on.
Fierce from the battered helm the thong he tore,
And tight below his chin, with strangling noose
Compressed, all issue choked of breath and life;
And would have spoiled the course, but lo! a shell
Of empty arms was all his triumph found!
Cygnus had vanished, by his Sea-God Sire
To that white bird transformed that bears his name!– Achilles and Cygnus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XII, Lines 191-197
That doesn’t mean vaccines ought to be ignored
Nor should we dismiss the virus as a seasonal flu
On the contrary we need to produce and share much more
A cavalier attitude just won’t do.
If it is long Covid we are destined for, so be it.
Let us at least defend our health
It requires all of us to do our bit,
Fighting the dreaded enemy with stealth.