Writers of the late-Republican and early Augustan periods found pestilence an effective metaphor for civil strife. They used distinctively Latin idioms to describe the deterioration of the physical corpus beset by epidemic disease and focused on social pathologies that reflect on distinctively Roman values (esp. pietas), under pressure. This paper looks back on a tradition of using metaphors of disease to reflect on civil war in the late Roman Republic and considers how the metaphor evolved in the early imperial period, after civil war was ostensibly resolved with the establishment of the Augustan Principate and subsequent Julio-Claudian dynasty: metaphors linking contagion with political disorder persist in texts such as Lucan’s Bellum Civile and Seneca’s Oedipus, but evolve to address the relationship between a quasi-monarchical Princeps and the Roman body politic. Such figurative language, however, maintains currency primarily among a population familiar with the terms of the metaphor’s vehicle, in this case documented outbreaks of epidemic disease in and around Rome. In the final section of this paper, I consider the role played by two outbreaks of pestilence in the early imperial period (22 BCE and 65 CE) in shoring up or destabilizing the political authority of the Princeps: a better understanding of this dynamic, I argue, can shed light on how the current COVID 19 pandemic is impacting the relationship between elected leadership and other political bodies, especially that of the U.S. Hunter H. Gardner is Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina, where she teaches a wide range of courses on Greek, Latin, and the ancient Greco-Roman Mediterranean. She is the author of Gendering Time in Augustan Love Elegy (Oxford, 2013) and Pestilence and the Body Politic (Oxford 2019).