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During the pandemic, I started listening to some of the Great Courses on Audible. I went through the history of language, cuisine, and Rome until, inspired by the current pandemic, I spent several months with the Black Death. I figured there might be something to learn about how we were dealing with the present pandemic by looking at the most famous one. Not the first one. The first pandemic was the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century AD. The second was the Great Mortality of 1348, which we now know as the Black Death, and the third was the plague in India and China at the end of the 19th Century. It was the latter where the likely cause of the Great Mortality was discovered, the bacillus Yersina Pestis, spread primarily by rat fleas. We all know that story, but there are still many mysteries about the Great Mortality, what it was and how it spread. There is still disagreement as to whether Y. Pestis caused the Great Mortality or whether other diseases were involved.
Understanding the response to the Black Death puts a few things in perspective for our current predicament. It moved with astonishing swiftness out of the East and killed 30-60% of Europe. Germ theory did not exist. The medievalers had no idea what hit them or why. Civilization held, miraculously enough. Whatever was left to function, functioned as best it could. Faith in the Church and medicine took a big hit though, as they were helpless to stop it. Governments reacted, trying to stop the dying, but their mandates were largely ineffective. The King of Sweden passed an edict requiring Swedes to fast on Fridays and go to Mass to stop the plague. Didn’t work. Florence forbade selling the clothes of a plague victim. That might have worked some, as fleas lived in clothes.