Death in Venice


Thomas Mann

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The Disease Symbol Analysis

The Disease Symbol Icon
As Aschenbach stays in Venice, he begins to notice that more and more guests are leaving his hotel. The hotel barber mentions something about a disease to him, but no one is willing to explain anything more to him. In the city, he smells the medicinal scent of a germicide in the air, and becomes increasingly curious about the possible disease. All the Venetians he talks to, however, insist that the germicide is simply a preventative measure, because the excessively warm weather can be bad for people’s health. However, Aschenbach finally learns the truth from an Englishman at a British travel agency. The Englishman explains that Indian cholera, which originated in “the hot swamps of the Ganges delta,” has spread throughout the Mediterranean and is now in Venice, having already killed some people. Originating in an exotic location, the disease is treated mysteriously for most of the novella and, while it is never specified, it is perhaps the cause of Aschenbach’s own illness and death.

The Disease Quotes in Death in Venice

The Death in Venice quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Disease. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Art and the Artist Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Death in Venice published in 1995.
Chapter 5 Quotes

That was Venice, the obsequious and untrustworthy beauty—this city, half fairy tale, half tourist trap, in whose reeking atmosphere art had once extravagantly luxuriated, and which had inspired composers with music that gently rock you and meretriciously lulls you to rest. The adventurer felt as if his eyes were drinking in this luxuriance, as if his ears were being wooed by these melodies; he also recollected that the city was sick and was disguising the fact so it could go on making money; and he was more unbridled as he watched for the gondola that glided ahead of him.

Related Characters: Gustav von Aschenbach
Related Symbols: The Disease
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

For several years, Indian cholera had shown an increasing tendency to spread abroad and travel. Engendered in the hot swamps of the Ganges delta, arising from the mephitic exhalations of that wilderness of primordial world and islands, luxuriant but uninhabitable and shunned by man, in whose bamboo thickets the tiger crouches, the epidemic had raged throughout Hindustan unremittingly and with unusual violence, had spread eastward to China, westward to Afghanistan and Persia, and, following the main caravan routes, had brought its horrors as far as Astrakhan and even Moscow. But while Europe trembled in fear lest the phantom might enter its territory from that point, and by land, it had been carried across the sea by Syrian merchants, had appeared in several Mediterranean ports simultaneously, had raised its head in Toulon and Malaga, had shown its mask repeatedly in Palermo and Naples, and seemed to be a permanent fixture throughout Calabria and Apulia. The north of the peninsula had been spared. But in the middle of May of this year the fearful vibrios had been discovered in Venice twice in the same day, in the emaciated, blackened corpses of a cargo-ship crewman and a female greengrocer. . . . In fact, it seemed as if the epidemic had experienced a revivification of its strength, as if the tenacity and fertility of the germs that caused it had redoubled.

Related Symbols: The Disease
Page Number: 52-53
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Disease Symbol Timeline in Death in Venice

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Disease appears in Death in Venice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon the hotel seemed to be decreasing. His barber one day mentioned something about a disease, but when Aschenbach asked him more about it, he wouldn’t say anything. That afternoon, having... (full context)
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
...defended his behavior to himself. He was very interested in the news of a possible disease spreading around Venice and read about it in newspapers, though no one seemed to be... (full context)
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
...sirocco (a warm wind) could be bad for people’s health. He said there was no disease in Venice. But immediately after this conversation, he was accosted by two hotel employees who... (full context)
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
...went to a British travel agency in Venice and asked an Englishman about the possible disease in Venice. The man said the germicide was simply a preventative measure, but then said... (full context)
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
...was likely. However, fearing the loss of tourism, the city was maintaining silence about the disease. (full context)
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
...Venice immediately for his own safety. Aschenbach thought of perhaps warning Tadzio’s family about the disease (and using that opportunity to “lay his hand in farewell” on Tadzio’s head. He suddenly... (full context)