It was between the dark years of 1347 to 1350 that Europe’s unfortunate Black Death occurred. Occurring during the Middle Ages, it was a volatile time period when Europe was facing severe problems including famines, overpopulation, and the Hundred Years War. More than one third of Europe’s population was wiped out during this period and a thousand villages were left deserted. The onset of the plague epidemic originated from rats-the culprits of this mass extermination -who had spread the highly contagious disease to the very susceptible and vulnerable people. Once an individual was infected with pneumonic plague, they would die within a matter of days. Thus the plague is perceived by many as one of the most extreme types of sickness to be ill-fated with. It is to my understanding that the most significant consequence of the plague was its profound impact in snatching way the very existence and social livelihood of many who befell the murderous illness.
The Preface to the ladies of Boccaccio’s decameron more specifically describes the various actions of people living in this dark and gloomy era. People did what they considered fit. Some people abandoned the city and would seek refuge in areas that were not yet affected by the plague. “Various fears and superstitions arose among the survivors, almost all of which tended toward one end-flee from the sick and whatever has belonged to them. In this way each man thought to be safeguarding his own health.” People (survivors) left the city because they found that as a survival mechanism whereby they would not catch the disease from anyone.
These people were usually the rich who could afford fleeing away. Some of the people who fled from the catastrophe left their family behind. Other people remained in the city and began to freely enjoy their life by doing such things as drinking, singing. For example, some people “ran wild in other people’s houses and there was no one to prevent them, for everyone has abandoned all responsibility for his belongings as well as for himself. Some people began to try to justify the reason for the plague. They thought that it might have been a punishment from god for their sins. Some chose religion for faith while others doubted god.
The social impact of the plague revolves around and is depicted in the mannerism in which people had reacted to the massive disaster. The Plague in Siena: An Italian chronicle, offers an excellent description of the people’s perception of the death. Death was so instantaneous that “Victims would swell beneath their armpits and in their groins and fall over dead while talking.” Since victims died so suddenly and immediately after contracting the disease, people began perceive death in a whole new light. For instance, people had become very realistic in the sense that they became very conscious to and desensitized to the grim reality of death.
They became more accepting to and open-minded to the idea of death so much so that they expected it and awaited its inevitable arrival. People did not weep and mourn for death anymore because they were so in tune with the harsh reality that it was all a part of the cycle of life as they would have to face it some day themselves. Furthermore, during the medieval plague epidemic, “so many people died that it was believed to be the end of the world” where it seemed as if the human population could very well become extinct.
Due to the mass numbers of death the once vast European population, had substantially reduced in quantity. As a melancholy aftermath of the devastating epidemic, there were many bodies left unburied and exposed in clear view of the public. It was hard to bury the dead, because no one was willing to go through such a daunting and sordid process of cleaning up the plague-infested remains of the deceased corpses. As an outcome of the plague epidemic, “the city of siena seemed almost unihabitied for almost no one was found in the city.”
The chronicle of a French cleric aids in expressing the survivor’s reaction to the plague. Many of the survivors experienced psychological frustrations about life’s unpredictable halt. In a the chronicle of a French cleric, this halt is acknowledged in the excerpt that claims that, “he who was well one day was dead the next and being carried to his grave.” Some of the survivors thought that the contagious spreading of the plague was caused by bacterial infection dwelling in shared resources including air and water. The Jews were harshly charged and accused with perpetuating the spread of this malicious infection. People accused the Jews of poisoning the well with the deadly pathogen.
Consequently, the Jews were then “massacred and slaughtered by Christians and many thousands were burned everywhere.” The Jews were mass murdered just based on the mere assumption that they were the ones responsible for spreading the plague. However, on a happier note, the survivors of the plague, some of who had lost their loved ones, sought comfort from one another, found happiness, and preceded to tighten their bonds in holy matrimony. The next step following marriage is bearing offspring and fortunately “there was no sterility among the women, but on the contrary fertility beyond the ordinary.” After experiencing the sudden death of so many peers, the survivors of the plague felt very fortunate and relieved that their lives weren’t taken away by the plague and henceforth appreciated life to the uttermost.