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The contemporary European of 1348 was a peasant, a man who understood little about what was happening to him. He did not use the phrase "Black Death" but instead called the disease "the Pestilence" or "the Great Mortality." He saw only God's desertion in the face of a disaster so horrible. One historian describes,

The European, in the face of the Black Death, was in general overwhelmed by a sense of inevitable doom. If the plague was decreed by God and the inexorable movement of the planets, then how could frail man seek to oppose it? The preacher might counsel hope, but only with the proviso that the sins of man must first be washed away by the immensity of his suffering. The doctor might proscribe remedies, but with the tepid enthusiasm of a civil-defense expert advising those threatened by imminent nuclear attack to adopt a crouching posture and clasp their hands behind their necks. The Black Death descended on a people who were drilled by their theological and their scientific training into a reaction of apathy and fatalistic resignation. Nothing could have provided more promising material on which a plague might feed (Ziegler, pg. 25).

The flight from cities, the abandonment of the sick, the sordid burials in communal ditches, crops withering in empty fields while livestock ran free?all of these are common in chronicles of the time. The general sense of doom and desperation that overtook the people was completely understandable yet, sometimes it seems that the emotions must have been worn down, dulled by horrors, as in the words of an unknown chronicler: "And in these days was burying without sorrowe and wedding without friendschippe" (Tuchman, pg. 96). But all emotion could not be wiped away. The prevailing tone of the years 1347-1351 is that of a grief beyond words.

The Black Death Part 9: Medicine in the 14th Century

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