Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"This is the End of the World": The Black Death

Cheery, no? So is titled Barbara Tuchman's chapter 5 in A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century. (Another book you've heard of and not read is her Guns of August.) Writing of the plague...

"All these explanations had in common a factor of poisoned air, of miasmas and thick, stinking mists traced to every kind of natural or imagined agency from stagnant lakes to malign conjunction of the planets, from the hand of the Evil One to the wrath of God. Medical thinking, trapped in the theory of astral influences, stressed air as the communicator of disease, ignoring sanitation or visible carriers. The existence of two carriers confused the trail, the more so because the flea could live and travel independently of the rat for as long as a month and, if infected by the particularly virulent septicemic form of the bacillus, could infect humans without reinfecting itself from the rat. The simultaneous presence of the pneumonic form of the disease, which was indeed communicated through the air, blurred the problem further..."

"That the infection came from contact with the sick or with their houses, clothes, or corpses was quickly observed but not comprehended. Gentile da Foligno, renowned physician of Perugia and doctor of medicine at the universities of Bologna and Padua, came close to respiratory infection when he surmised that poisonous material was 'communicated by means of air breathed out and in.' Having no idea of microscopic carriers, he had to assume that the air was corrupted by planetary influences...."

Doctors struggling with the evidence could not break away from the terms of astrology, to which they believed all human physiology was subject...In October 1348 Philip VI asked the medical faculty of the University of Paris for a report on the affliction that seemed to threaten human survival. With careful thesis, antithesis, and proofs, the doctors ascribed it to a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius said to have occurred on march 23, 1345."

Smoothingplane: This is a truncated post from 2005. Note the above bold. When I heard the Iraq Surrender Group has zero, nada, none, zip active duty military service, I think their credibility rises to the credibility of medieval doctors. They simply will not break away from the terms of diplomacy, and the belief that all problems must be talked to death and talking is doing. Their "calls for a new diplomatic offensive" are an offensive call for more mouthing of nothing.

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