If you have Amazon Prime, until June 30, you watch all 24 lectures ( all about 30 minutes) of The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague by noted professor Dorsey Armstrong for free. The lectures are part of the Great Courses series. Many years ago, I used to order these lectures on cassette tapes. They are much fancier today and remain riveting. The basic premise is this company goes around the country and finds the best college professors and signs them up to present lectures aimed at a common audience on their subjects of expertise. While Black Death is free, for $7.99 a month you have access to their catalog via Amazon Prime.
Here are some of the things I have learned so far.
The Plague was called the Black Plague not because it turned people black, but because “Black” meant horrible. The plague killed an estimated 50 million people, up to 60% of everyone living in Europe at the time. Some people would wake up fine, feel badly at noon and be dead by five in the evening.
In an ancient war, a Mongol army catapulted bodies of Plague victims into a city that wished to capture the Italian City of Kaffa in 1346.
In Florence so many people died, they were layered in mass graved “as one layers lasagna.”
Grave diggers commanded high wages.
I also learned that this horrifying mask was the original Haz Mat Suit.
The doctors who wore them filled the beaks with scented herbs under the belief that breathing the scented air would protect them against the “miasma” or “bad air” that carried the disease.
They were of course wrong and many of them died.
Here a National Geographic article I found about the same topic.
The lectures have some great illustrations that are chilling in their view of death. The painting below shows how some danced while awaiting their inevitable death.