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In 1351, Pope Clement VI recorded 23,840,000 dead. The Black Death had come to an end, and while the plague would reappear often over then next three hundred years it would never achieve the same magnitude of devastation. The swath of destruction it left behind was so great that today it can scarcely be believed. The idea of a disease destroying religion, social order, all the tenets of civilization... it all seems too terrible to comprehend. Michelet said of the 14th century "No epoch was more naturally mad" (n. pg.). Man was indeed placed helpless before nature during this time, pitted in a war which he could not understand or even hope to win against forces much greater than his own tiny existence. Impossibly, he triumphed, and went on to flourish, bettered by the tragedy. This humanity-- this irrepressible will to survive and thrive-- was the only thing that allowed us to survive. Kings and queens, peasants and lords, the elderly and the children-- all fell under the heavy hand of the Black Death. It erased class and property, transcending the hierarchy of the human existence. More than anything, it was the catalyst for a new world, a world of exploration and discovery. What a terrible catalyst it was, killing indiscriminately and destroying in a matter of months the rules of civilization that humans had worked so hard to write down. But the indomitable will of the human spirit triumphed, and when the darkness of death was lifted, a new social order, built upon the ruins of the old, created a renaissance.

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