The Plague Essay, Research Paper
The Black Plague
In the early 1330s an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague occurred in China. Plague mainly affects rodents, but fleas can transmit the disease to people. Once people are infected, they infect others very rapidly. Plague causes fever and a painful swelling of the lymph glands called buboes, which is how it gets its name. The disease also causes spots on the skin that are red at first and then turn black. Since China was one of the busiest of the world’s trading nations, it was only a matter of time before the outbreak of plague in China spread to western Asia and Europe. In October of 1347, several Italian merchant ships returned from a trip to the Black Sea, one of the key links in trade with China. When the ships docked in Sicily, many of those on board were already dying of plague. Within days the disease spread to the city and the surrounding countryside. An eyewitness tells what happened: “Realizing what a deadly disaster had come to them, the people quickly drove the Italians from their city. But the disease remained, and soon death was everywhere. Fathers abandoned their sick sons. Lawyers refused to come and make out wills for the dying. Friars and nuns were left to care for the sick, and monasteries and convents were soon deserted, as they were stricken, too. Bodies were left in empty houses, and there was no one to give them a Christian burial.”The disease struck and killed people with terrible speed. The Italian writer Boccaccio said its victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”By the following August, the plague had spread as far north as England, where people called it “The Black Death” because of the black spots it produced on the skin. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and Medieval medicine had nothing to combat it. In winter the disease seemed to disappear, but only because fleas–which were now helping to carry it from person to person–are dormant then. Each spring, the plague attacked again, killing new victims. After five years 25 million people were dead–one-third of Europe’s people. Even when the worst was over, smaller outbreaks continued, not just for years, but for centuries. The survivors lived in constant fear of the plague’s return, and the disease did not disappear until the 1600s.
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.
How was the Black Death transmitted? The three forms of the Black Death were transmitted two ways. The septicemic and bubonic plague were transmitted with direct contact with a flea, while the pneumonic plague was transmitted through airborne droplets of saliva coughed up by bubonic or septicemic infected humans.
The bubonic and septicemic plague were transmitted by the the bite of an infected flea. Fleas, humans, and rats served as hosts for the disease. The bacteria (Yersinia pestis) multiplied inside the flea blocking the flea’s stomach causing it to be very hungry. The flea would then start voraciously biting a host. Since the feeding tube to the stomach was blocked , the flea was unable to satisfy its hunger. As a result, it continued to feed in a frenzy. During the feeding process, infected blood carrying the plague bacteria , flowed into the human’s wound. The plague bacteria now had a new host. The flea soon starved to death.
The pneumonic plague was transmitted differently than the other two forms . It was transmitted through droplets sprayed from the lungs and mouth of an infected person. In the droplets were the bacteria that caused the plague. The bacteria entered the lungs through the windpipe and started attacking the lungs and throat. How did the Black Death effect European civilization? It affected Europe’s population and also its Error! Bookmark not defined. . Changes in the size of civilization led to changes in trade, the Error! Bookmark not defined., Error! Bookmark not defined., and many other things.
The Black Death killed off a massive portion of Europe’s population. The plague is more effective when it attacks weakened people and Europe at the time was already weakened by exhaustion of the soil due to poor farming, the introduction of more sheep which reduced the land available for corn, and persistent Scottish invasions.
Fleas infected with the Bubonic Plague would jump from rats to travelers, killing millions and infesting the continent with world shaking fear. Normal people were tormented by the threat of death, causing them to change their views on leisure, work, and art. Even children suffered.
The Black Death crept slowly into the recreational time of people no matter how much the rich attempted to avoid it or how little time the poor had for recreation. Even the abundant death was used for laughter. Funeral processions were used as jokes. It got to the point where deaths were ignored altogether. Citizens looked for causes and the developmentally delayed, deformed and crazy people outside town were the perfect candidates. Bored? Go toss some stones at the witch and help to stop the plague.
The damage to art is irreparable. As a result of death in the church, written language was almost lost and whole churches were abandoned. Carving was changed. Coffins had pictures of corpses on the lid, usually showing a very flattering likeness of the body inside wearing their best clothes. Some of these dated around 1400 showed bodies with about half of their flesh and shredded garments. A few of the sculptures showed worms and snails munching on the diseased. Painting was effected too.There are a number of paintings containing people socializing with skeletons. These paintings were made on a powerful person’s command, and called “danse macabre”. Artists abandoned old ways of painting things idolized by the Christian religion. They were so depressed by the death that surrounded them that they began to paint pictures of sad and dead people.
Partially due to the lack of children’s skills to provide for themselves, the children suffered. A common nursery rhyme is proof. Ring around the rosey?s pocket full of posey?s ashes ashes we all fall down
Ring around the rosy: rosary beads give you God’s help. A pocket full of posies: used to stop the odor of rotting bodies which was at one point thought to cause the plague, it was also used widely by doctors to protect them from the infected plague patients. Ashes, ashes: the church burned the dead when burying them became to laborious. We all fall down: dead. Not only were the children effected physically, but also mentally. Exposure to public nudity, craziness, and (obviously) abundant death was premature. The decease of family members left the children facing death and pain at an early age. Parents even abandoned their children, leaving them to the streets instead of risking the babies giving them the dreaded “pestilence”. Children were especially unlucky if they were female. Baby girls would be left to die because parents would favor male children that could carry on the family name.
Effect over Time
After the plague had raised the level of leisure, the people kept it up. This was so injuring to the economy that it has been suggested that Europe is just now recovering from the devastation. The population is also a cause of disruption in the economy because small populations mean few taxes, however the economy improved. If the Black Death had an effect on today’s economy, it would be that prices aren’t as high as they would have been due to the fact that there was a century where the economy made no progress. Art was also a victim of the Plague because paintings are a lasting record. The art is still an easy thing to find and a good reminder of how the most creative people can panic when there’s panic around them. The plague did benefit art, however because if the death had not inspired artists to stray from religious ways, there wouldn’t have been another catastrophe to do it.
Soon after the Black Death the views on children changed. Carrying on family bloodlines was vital in the small population. Children were said to be not worth the trouble to raise. This might have slowed the reoccurrence of plague, but it also slowed the regeneration of Europe. Leisure was swayed by the great mortality of the time period. People had tried to have so much fun that they had trouble going back to working all the time. After abundant high wages, the lack of pay must have been startling. It’s horrifying to realize how much devastation a tiny insect can give to an entire world. It’s almost enough to make you paranoid considering that forms of Bubonic Plague still kill people.
The bubonic plague was the most commonly seen form of the Black Death. The mortality rate was 30-75%. The symptoms were enlarged and inflamed lymph nodes (around arm pits, neck and groin). The term ‘bubonic’ refers to the characteristic bubo or enlarged lymphatic gland. Victims were subject to headaches, nausea, aching joints, fever of 101-105 degrees, vomiting, and a general feeling of illness. Symptoms took from 1-7 days to appear.
The pneumonic plague was the second most commonly seen form of the Black Death. The pneumonic and the septicemic plague were probably seen less then the bubonic plague because the victims often died before they could reach other places (this was caused by the inefficiency of transportation). The mortality rate for the pneumonic plague was 90-95% (if treated today the mortality rate would be 5-10%). The pneumonic plague infected the lungs. Symptoms included slimy sputum tinted with blood. Sputum is saliva mixed with mucus exerted from the respiratory system. As the disease progressed, the sputum became free flowing and bright red. Symptoms took 1-7 days to appear.
The septicemic plague was the rarest form of all. The mortality was close to 100% (even today there is no treatment). Symptoms were a high fever and skin turning deep shades of purple due to respiratory failure (the Black Death got its name from the deep purple, almost black discoloration). Victims usually died the same day symptoms appeared. In some cities, as many as 800 people died every day.