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Kelly DeVries ...
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31 October 2005 (USA)  »

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"Frightened by their own mortality"
26 June 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Interesting depiction of the worst biological event in history.

Originating in the Mongol expansion toward Europe, the plague traveled via fleas carried by rats that had infiltrated ships on their way to Italy -- ships that often arrived bearing crews-turned-corpses. At one point, 600 Venetians were dying every day.

The pestilence marked by fever, welts, swollen glands, and despair "swept across an unsuspecting continent," as many feared it was God's vengeance against sinners. Facing a force against which they felt powerless, terrified people abandoned sick family members, priests declined to offer last rites to afflicted faithful, and frenzied self-flagellators imitated the mortification of Christ in an effort to appease the Almighty.

"So many died that all believed it was the end of the world," wrote the Siennese chronicler Agnolo di Tura.

Europe's Jews became a scapegoat of terrified witnesses to the plague, who wanted to expel all sin from their midst. I was horrified to learn that more than 1,000 Jews were burned alive on Feb. 14, 1349, in Strasbourg, France, the city in which I spent an idyllic term as an undergraduate from Penn State. (To his credit, the pope who reigned during the Black Death, Clement VI, spoke against anti-Semitic violence, saying such impulses were the work of the Devil.) The magnitude of this tragedy leaves one speechless. It's an important history episode to remember in self-indulgent times such as ours.


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