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Professor Piciche The Black Death: From a Dark Past to a New Light It is impossible to discuss Europe's history without mentioning the Plague of 1348, also known as the Black Death. The Black Death reached Italian shores in the spring of 1348. The presence of such a plague was enormously devastating making its mark in unprecedented numbers in recorded history. According to records, it is estimated to have killed a third of Europe's population. The Black Death was caused by bacteria named Yersinia Pestis. This germ was transferred from rats to fleas and then to humans.
This disease spread quickly due to the infestation of rats. Also, sanitary conditions were very poor which did not help the problem at all. When a human was infected, the bacteria moved from the bloodstream traveling to the lymph nodes. The plague occurred in three forms, however, the most commonly seen form was the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague refers to the painful swelling of the lymph nodes also known as buboes. Victims were subject to bodily aches, headaches, vomiting, and nausea.
Plague victims underwent severe damage to skin leading to bleeding under the skin which transformed to dark blotches, hence the term "black" death. The forming of these dark blotches was a sign of sure death within four to seven days. The consequences of this plague were tragic. The consequences included depopulation, economics and religious effects, and social change. The great population loss only served to worsen the economy. This massive plague also caused many people to lose faith in their religion, weakening the power of the church.
After 1350, European culture in general turned extremely melancholic. The general mood was a depressing one. Once vivacious art was now dark with representation of death. It is easy to see how overcoming this era could force man to believe he is Great, maybe even invincible.
It could also force humans to believe they have a lot to be grateful for and this quality of mind allowed them to take advantage of everything that is useful. Man is now at the center of the Universe and all men should seek for an ideal life. We call this rebirth era the Renaissance. Could something so morbid give way to something as beautiful as the Renaissance? Perhaps we owe a substantial portion of the Renaissance to the Black Death. The Renaissance is everything the Black Death wasn't, as its survivors felt compelled to thrive in a world that was obviously limited.
I will attempt to explain its severity and harshness, yet discuss its great contributions. It is only fair that we give credit to something so dreadful as the Black plague for assisting and opening the way for the Renaissance. A New Society Under this new plague, a new society has formed. As a reaction to such a disaster, many citizens went about excluded themselves from society in order to avoid the plague. Homes were abandoned and towns were left nearly empty as people enclosed themselves into small communities of only the healthy. This was all done in hopes of preserving themselves from the epidemic.
The sickly retrieved little help as many adopted the policy to avoid the sick and everything they owned. Many of the citizens now possessed a selfish mind frame brought on by terror and panic. Neighbor abandoned neighbor, brother abandoned brother, and mother abandoned child. It isn't difficult to see how experiencing such a traumatic event can change ones outlook on life. After living through such conditions, this caused people to have looser morals.
There was no longer a need to have order and array in such a chaotic world. The lack of authority, officials, and laws only served to prove that every man was able to do as he pleased. This new change in society and culture happened gradually and steadily. The social structure of Europe was altered forever and it is this change in society that marked the beginning of the Renaissance culture. Religion Along with a new way of thinking came a new way of believing.
Many people were tormented by the idea of death, causing them to change the way they viewed things. As the plague progressed, Christians began to lose faith in their religion. The Black Death led many to become hostile toward religious officials whose duty was to reassure the Christian belief, however, they were unable to ease the tragic effects of the plague. In some cases, many of the clergyman themselves fell victim and died and others fled because they felt overwhelmed to uphold the Christian belief in such a time. Many Christians also used Jewish people as means of obtaining an answer as to why they were suffering. Some went so far as to believe their water source was being poisoned by the Jews.
This new lack of faith weakened the church and encouraged rebellion. Although the church still held power, it was obvious that a new form of spirituality was present. This new ideology sustained the idea that people were in control of their own destinies and less moved by the Church. This belief system was also present during the Renaissance when men credited themselves almost entirely for what they have done. Renaissance leaders tended to be more concerned with the duties of society and not that of the church. New Art Art is very significant aspect when mentioning the culture of the Europeans.
Before the plague, European art was livelier because it represented an existing culture. During the plague however art was drastically changed. Paintings now included people socializing with skeletons ad personifying other images of death. Artists abandoned previous traditions of painting things surrounding the Christian religion. This serves as additional evidence of the role of the Church. This new art was merely a representation of what they saw and how they felt.
They were constantly bombarded with images of death and sadness that it reflected through their art work. This new form of art was also a major contribution to the Renaissance giving way to many different forms of art. Images of skeleton figures interacting with people represented the everyday presence of death. Here is an example of what paintings may have looked like during the epidemic. Economic Effects The Black Death itself caused a massive depopulation in Europe's economy.
This factor caused a major disorder in its existing feudal system. This disruption gave peasants a better opportunity in the labor force as they were much needed. The shortage of skilled workers gave peasants a chance at a better life. As depopulation gradually overturned Europe's current medieval system it also paved the way for a new system to take place. It is this system that will shape the society of the Renaissance. Education Medical workers sought long and hard to find a cure and prevention for the plague.
Hygiene was very poor considering the living conditions people had to endure. Streets were often cluttered with filth and rodents scattering about. Eventually, many medical officials began to believe that cleanliness could be a form of prevention. Major efforts were than taken to improve sanitation throughout Europe. Believe it or not, this was actually a major educational advancement.
For it was once believed, that it was better to be dirty because your pores were closed and it lessened your chances of getting sick. As the Black Death passed, new advancements in architecture also became present. Small towns grew to prospering cities. This is clear evidence of Renaissance culture. Many Renaissance scholars perfected the art of educating. Many factors that emerged from the plague, consequently, paved the way for the Renaissance to emerge.
The constant reforms in religion, art, medicine and science provided the basis for the Renaissance. Major Renaissance figures such as Boccaccio devoted many of their writings to the Black Death. The Renaissance was given its sense of renewal and rebirth after experiencing something as horrid as the Black Death. The Black Death allowed people of the Renaissance to realize all they were grateful for. The Black Death was the inspiration for the newly educated people to prosper in arts and new ideas about their world. Bibliography: Books and Journal Articles M.
W. Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East (Princeton, 1970); American Historical Review, June 2002 v 107 i 3 p 703 (36) Bondanella. Musa, The Italian Renaissance Reader, First Printing, 1987 U. S. News & World Report, April 29, 2002 p 63 Monkeyshines on Health and Science: Biology, Jan 2002 p 8 (1)
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