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The Black Death: From a Dark Past to a New Light

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Essay title: The Black Death: From a Dark Past to a New Light

Italian Renaissance

Professor Piciche

The Black Death: From a Dark Past to a New Light

It is impossible to discuss Europe's history without mentioning the Plague of 1348, also known as the Black Death. The Black Death reached Italian shores in the spring of 1348. The presence of such a plague was enormously devastating making its mark in unprecedented numbers in recorded history. According to records, it is estimated to have killed a third of Europe's population. The Black Death was caused by bacteria named Yersinia Pestis. This germ was transferred from rats to fleas and then to humans. This disease spread quickly due to the infestation of rats. Also, sanitary conditions were very poor which did not help the problem at all. When a human was infected, the bacteria moved from the bloodstream traveling to the lymph nodes. The plague occurred in three forms, however, the most commonly seen form was the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague refers to the painful swelling of the lymph nodes also known as buboes. Victims were subject to bodily aches, headaches, vomiting, and nausea. Plague victims underwent severe damage to skin leading to bleeding under the skin which transformed to dark blotches, hence the term "black" death. The forming of these dark blotches was a sign of sure death within four to seven days.

The consequences of this plague were tragic. The consequences included depopulation, economics and religious effects, and social change. The great population loss only served to worsen the economy. This massive plague also caused many people to lose faith in their religion, weakening the power of the church. After 1350, European culture in general turned extremely melancholic. The general mood was a depressing one. Once vivacious art was now dark with representation of death. It is easy to see how overcoming this era could force man to believe he is Great, maybe even invincible. It could also force humans to believe they have a lot to be grateful for and this quality of mind allowed them to take advantage of everything that is useful. Man is now at the center of the Universe and all men should seek for an ideal life. We call this rebirth era the Renaissance. Could something so morbid give way to something as beautiful as the Renaissance? Perhaps we owe a substantial portion of the Renaissance to the Black Death. The Renaissance is everything the Black Death wasn't, as its survivors felt compelled to thrive in a world that was obviously limited. I will attempt to explain its severity and harshness, yet discuss its great contributions. It is only fair that we give credit to something so dreadful as the Black plague for assisting and opening the way for the Renaissance.

A New Society

Under this new plague, a new society has formed. As a reaction to such a disaster, many citizens went about excluded themselves from society in order to avoid the plague. Homes were abandoned and towns were left nearly empty as people enclosed themselves into small communities of only the healthy. This was all done in hopes of preserving themselves from the epidemic. The sickly retrieved little help as many adopted the policy to avoid the sick and everything they owned.

Many of the citizens now possessed a selfish mind frame brought on by terror and panic. Neighbor abandoned neighbor, brother abandoned brother, and mother abandoned child. It isn't difficult to see how experiencing such a traumatic event can change ones outlook on life. After living through such conditions, this caused people to have looser morals. There was no longer a need to have order and array in such a chaotic world. The lack of authority, officials, and laws only served to prove that every man was able to do as he pleased. This new change in society and culture happened gradually and steadily. The social structure of Europe was altered forever and it is this change in society that marked the beginning of the Renaissance culture.


Along with a new way of thinking came a new way of believing. Many people were tormented by the idea of death, causing them to change the way they viewed things. As the plague progressed, Christians began to lose faith in their religion. The Black Death led many to become hostile toward religious officials whose duty was to reassure the Christian belief, however, they were unable to ease the tragic effects of the plague. In some cases, many of the clergyman themselves fell victim and died and others fled because they felt overwhelmed to uphold the Christian belief in such a time. Many Christians also used Jewish people as means of obtaining an answer as to why they were suffering.

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