“bring out your dead”

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.

"Medieval society never recovered from the results of the plague. So many people had died that there were serious labor shortages all over Europe. This led workers to demand higher wages, but landlords refused those demands. By the end of the 1300s peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy. The disease took its toll on the church as well. People throughout Christendom had prayed devoutly for deliverance from the plague. Why hadn't those prayers been answered? A new period of political turmoil and philosophical questioning lay ahead. " Read More: http://www.themiddleages.net/plague.html

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.

"In the two images below, death (represented by a skeleton) visits both the rich man and the peddlar alike. Over 100 editions of Holbein's Dance of Death have been published since the original French edition appeared in 1538." Read More: http://www.library.illinois.edu/blog/digitizedbotw/

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.

"strange, crow-faced, cloak-wearing doctors and talking about how if you had an "X" daubed over your door, you were a goner. Still, a disease that was so relentlessly fatal (50 per cent of those infected die within a week if untreated) was always bound to be thought of as a good way of instilling empire-building fear in young children. When the Soviet Union's biological weapons program was hastily disbanded, there was a mysterious outbreak of plague in Kazakhstan. But this was before Borat, so no one really paid any attention to it." Read More: http://vice.typepad.com/vice_magazine/2009/08/london-ten-best-illnesses-of-all-time.html

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…

"New evidence has been uncovered that leads some experts to believe that the plague's origins may come from

t. Eva Panagiotakopulu, who is an archaeologist and fossil-insect expert at the University of Sheffield, England, is the woman responsible for science's latest discovery. Eva has found archaeological evidence to back up the plague's possible origins in Egypt, and that evidence has recently just been published in the Journal of Biogeography." Read More: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/366005/did_the_bubonic_plague_originate_in.html?cat=37

…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


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