In 1346 a Tartar army picked a quarrel with Genoese merchants who traded in the Crimea, chased them into their coastal redoubt at Feodosiya, and laid siege to the town. The usual campaign of attrition was developing when the plans of the attackers were disastrously disrupted by the onslaught of a new and fearful plague.
The Tartars abandoned the siege, but not first without sharing their misfortune with their enemies. They used their giant catapults to lob the corpses of the victims over the walls, thus spreading the disease within the city. Though the Genoese carried the rotting bodies through the town and dropped them into the sea, the plague was soon as active within as it was without, since so few places are so vulnerable to disease as a besieged city.
Those fortunate inhabitants who did not immediately succumb knew quite well that even if they managed to survive the plague, they would be too weak to withstand a renewed Tartar attack. They escaped to their galleys and fled toward the Mediterranean. With them traveled the Black Death. Within three years every third man, woman and child in Europe was dead.
The population that awaited the Black Death in Europe was ill equipped to resist it. The medieval peasant, distracted by war, weakened by malnutrition, exhausted by his struggle to win a living from his inadequate portion of ever less fertile land, was physically an easy prey for the disease. Intellectually and emotionally, he was prepared for disaster and ready to accept it if not actually welcome it.
The Europeans of the fourteenth century were convinced that the plague was an affliction laid on them by the Almighty, a retribution for the wickedness of the present generation. Credulous and superstitious, they believed without question in the direct participation of god on earth and were well versed in old testament precedents for the destruction of cities or whole races in an access of divine indignation. Because they were unable to see a natural explanation of this sudden holocaust, they took it for granted that they were the victims of god’s wrath.
Giovanni Boccaccio: “…Such fear and fanciful notions took possession of the living that almost all of them adopted the same cruel policy, which was entirely to avoid the sick and everything belonging to them. By so doing, each one thought he would secure his own safety…
…Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. They formed small communities, living entirely separate from everybody else. They shut themselves up in houses where there were no sick, eating the finest food and drinking the best wine very temperately, avoiding all excess, allowing no news or discussion of death and sickness, and passing the time in music and suchlike pleasures. Others thought just the opposite. They thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves, satisfying every appetite they could, laughing and jesting at what happened. They put their words into practice, spent day and night going from tavern to tavern, drinking immoderately, or went into other people’s houses, doing only those things which pleased them. This they could easily do because everyone felt doomed and had … In this suffering and misery of our city, the authority of human and divine laws almost disappeared, for, like other men, the ministers and the executors of the laws were all dead or sick or shut up with their families, so that no duties were carried out. Every man was therefore able to do as he pleased. Read More: http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/plague.htm
Lewis Turco. The Black Death. 1665.
“I have a buboe, mum,” my daughter said
and raised her sleeve to show me. In the street
the bellman cried aloud, “Bring out your dead!”
The heart of me froze like a drop of sleet,
dropped into my bowel when my darling child
Raised up her sleeve to show me. In the street
the crier’s bell rang out both dark and wild.
The end of time opened like a flower,
fell into my bowel as my darling child
showed me her fatal wound. Our final hour
blossomed before my eyes in Satan’s garden,
for the end of time had opened like a flower.
I felt the heart in me begin to harden
against a Deity who could ordain
such an evil blossoming of Satan’s garden.
What were the sins that could have earned such bane?
What sort of Deity could so ordain?
“I have a buboe, mum,” my daughter said.
The bellman cried aloud, “Bring out your dead!” Read More: http://lewisturco.typepad.com/poetics/2010/03/the-black-death.html