The Black Death. By Philip Ziegler. (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009. Print.)
“This book contains virtually no original research. It is an attempt to synthesize in a single readable but reasonably comprehensive volume the records of the contemporary chroniclers and the work of later historians, each treating some tiny aspect of this enormous subject.”
Philip Ziegler, Preface.
A series of natural disasters in the Orient during the middle ages brought one of the most devastating periods of death and destruction in European history. Without a doubt the Black Death was one of the major scourges of the fourteenth ...view middle of the document...
In the course of the propagation, the plague had pneumonic and septicemic mutations, making it more lethal.
Throughout this explanation he not only gives details about its beginnings and enormous propagation, but he also analyzes how it manifested in different parts of the continent. Ziegler thought the effect of the catastrophe was both more interesting and important for the audience he intended to reach. There were many reactions to the disaster and he shows the crisis that medieval man suffered. The epidemic did not just have a demographic impact in Europe; it had also a psychological impact in society for more than a century. “In the Middle Ages the plague was not only all-destroying, it was totally incomprehensible. Medieval man was equipped with no form of defense-social, medical or psychological-against a violent epidemic of this magnitude. His baffled and terrified helplessness in the face of disaster will be above all the theme of this book” (p.17). The inability of the medieval mind to understand the issue they were facing is reflected in some of the people’s reactions.
No or little medical knowledge existed in the middle ages, at least to cope with the force of the plague. There are some chronicles that show medieval men “seem to have taken refuge in frenetic gaiety” (P.83). The lack of medical knowledge made people tried anything to help them escape the disease or at some point, when the plague was unstoppable, from their fear of death. “The standards of society were relaxed; debauchery was common; thrift and continence forgotten; the sacred rules of property ignored; the ties of family and friendship denied; let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die” (P.83). The uncertainty and lack of medical knowledge had a major impact on the social structure and it became disintegrated.
The “ Brotherhood of the Flagellants” the movement of religious people originated in Eastern Europe, is other example Ziegler uses to show the readers how terrified the medieval society was. These men put themselves to extreme mortification to save their souls. In the eyes of these men the movement was designed to induce God to relent, because they thought the plague was his direct punishment for them. The Flagellants satisfied the hope of many German peasants “ If the Plaque was already rife then the visit offered some hope that God might be placated, if it had not yet come then the penance of the Flagellants was a cheap and possibly useful insurance policy.” (P.92). Some even started to believe they had a supernatural power, that Flagellants could heal the sick or drive out devils.
The next example the author uses to show his main argument, about medieval helplessness, is the persecution of the Jews during this particular period. He opens his argument with an excellent quote: “When ignorant men are overwhelmed by forces totally beyond their control and their understanding it is inevitable that they will search for some...