The Black Death was the plague that took over Europe from 1348 to 1351. It was given the name “Black Death” during the sixteenth century. The origin of the Black Death is still unknown. Originally, scholars believed it was a strand of bubonic plague that humans obtain from fleas off of infected rats. They ruled this out because the bubonic plague spreads slower and the mortality rates are lower than what was seen in the Black Death. Over a third of Europe’s population did from the first Black Death. The method in which the disease was transmitted was unknown; therefore, it spread even faster because people did not know how to prevent it. The Black Death had an impact of art, literature, and the social, economic, and religious life of this time period.
The most famous art of this time was the image of the “Dance of Death”. This image was depicted in many ways, but it most often showed a skeleton holding hands and dancing with kings, queens, popes, and other people in the city. According to the text, “…they danced their way to destruction.” This image symbolized the feeling of death that was almost inevitable.
Art, during this time, was able to portray the horrifying and saddening moments, as well as the moments that had hope. One of the main fears was where one would go after death. Art captured a lot of Biblical scenes because of this fear. People wanted to be assured, that they would go to Heaven. The Flagellation Scene in the book gives some insight to this idea. The painting shows a group of people that are barefoot and have no clothes on their back. They are whipping themselves in an attempt to rid themselves and their society of sins and end the Black Death. Art displayed realistic scenes and emotions during this time as well. Death was very real and very close; therefore, artists captured their fear and others fear and put it into their paintings.
The Black Death also provoked strong emotions in literature. Writers continuously wrote stories and poems about the hardships people were going through during the Black Death. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio was written in 1351. This story portrays the conditions of the Black Death in Florence. The Decameron discusses ten young men and women that attempt to escape the plague by fleeing and telling folk story each day. This story emphasized the usage of storytelling, but overall portrayed the emotions people felt during the Black Death.
The economy, social hierarchy, and religious beliefs were impacted greatly during the Black Death. Along with the loss of people came the loss of food and workers. The labor shortage caused wages to rise and prices to fall. Agriculture began to fail as a result of the plague. The population also was not growing steadily due to the loss of so many people. This made those who did survive and repopulate, even more susceptible to diseases; however, it arguably killed off the weaker individuals.
During the Black Death, a war was also occurring. France and Aragon princes were struggling to control southern Italy. At the same time, northern Italian cities started war among themselves. England and France were fighting the Hundred Years’ War as well. Between the Black Death and the wars, Europe lost an extreme amount of their population.
The Black Death caused many people to question their religion. People thought that the plague was a way for God to punish them. Flagellants (like the picture described previously) publicly walked around whipping themselves in an attempt to rid society of sins. Many people stopped believing in the church’s power because they were not able to stop the Black Death. It was a time of great disappointment and loss of hope. Those who survived either believed in God or felt remorseful because they survived and other did not. The English reform movement eventually was able to save those who had lost hope.
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