The Distant Mirror
What effect – upon society
of lethal disasters?
The answer – elusive
So many strange and great
Perils and adversities
Hoofprints of the horsemen
This our last dozen decades,
a Time of discomfort,
maybe an Age
Know you though
Our species has lived through worse before.
the dates seem dull …. pedantic
Contradictions are part of Life
No Age is tidy
Disaster and Splendor
A checkered fabric All
Let us begin,
Where the record allows
Thus did he pray, and Apollo heard his prayer.
He came down furious from the summits of Olympus,
his bow and his quiver upon his shoulder, and the arrows rattled
with the rage that trembled within him.
He sat down away from the ships
with a face as dark as night,
His silver bow rang death
He shot his arrow in the midst of them.
First He smote their mules and their hounds,
but presently He aimed his shafts at the people themselves,
All day long the pyres of the dead were burning.
Greeks on the shores of Troy
from Homer 750 B.C.
Give or take.....
A statement! Of what it was like
Which people can study-
Should it ever attack again,
Birds and animals that fed on human
flesh stayed away from the bodies. If they did
indulge, it proved fatal.
The most terrifying aspect was despair.
When a soul realized infection, immediately,
they lost all hope.
Lawlessness! No fear of Gods or law
of man provided restraint. No one expected to live
long enough to be penalized.
Thucydides / Athens
What you are,
What we are,
you will be
And to Rome,
in the reign of Marcus Aurelius
163 A.D. Or there abouts....
Again, death filled the sacred shrines
with lifeless bodies,
all the temples of the heavenly ones
crowded with carcasses
religion of the gods was not counted for much:
the grief of the moment overwhelmed it all.
Nor did the old rites of burial continue in the city,
Horrors of burial.
the whole people was disordered and in panic,
every man sorrowing buried his dead,
laid out as best he could.
Depression and despair accompanied the physical symptoms and before the end,
“Death is seen seated on the face.” Arising in China and spreading through
Tartary Asia to India, and Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and all of Asia Minor,
it reached Europe in 1346-47.
Thirteen hundred and forty eight years
since the fruitful incarnation
of the Son of God,
When there came into the City,
Either due to the operations
of heavenly bodies...
or the Just Wrath of God
our iniquitous ways,
moving from place to place,
destroying countless lives.
Human wisdom and foresight
had no value...
Fears and imaginings
were born in those
Avoid and run away from the sick-
Others locked themselves in,
withdrawn from all,
ate and drank moderately,
refrained from speech,
Diverting themselves with music,
or whatever pleasant.
Beer and enjoyment,
Singing and cavorting,
the best medicine.
Many were abandoned,
Brother his brother,
Wives their husbands,
Most cruel and incredible,
parents their children.
Almost without exception,
All of them died,
Most passed from this life
with no one there to witness.
or candles or company
the Catastrophe so great,
that no one really cared.
Behaved as if everyday
Breakfast with Friends,
Dinner with Ancestors.
With Europe polarized between two papacies,
it became harder to heal the schism each year
that it lasted. All thoughtful men realized how
it was damaging society. But in schism as in war,
vested hostilities kept the breach open.
Council, advocated by Universities and individuals
was the obvious solution. As a challenge to their supremacy,
both popes rejected it. The rift in Christendom was to last
40 years. It was said, “No one since the beginning of the
schism had entered Paradise.”
France experienced the working class revolt that had
swept through Florence and Flanders. Concentrated wealth
was moving upward in the 14th century enlarging the
proportion of the poor who remained manageable as long
as their subsistence could be maintained by charity.
The situation changed when urban populations swelled
by the flotsam of war and plague, infused with new
aggressiveness in the plague's wake.
History never more cruelly demonstrated the
vulnerability of a nation to the person of its chief of state
than in the affliction of France in 1392.
from Samuel Pepys
Apr. 30 Great fears of the sickness here
in the City. God preserve us all.
Aug 16 Two shops in three; generally shut up.
It was dark before I arrived at my home steps
where to my great trouble I met a corpse
Aug 22 This disease makes us more
cruel to one another than we are to dogs.
Aug 28 How few people I see and those
walking like people who have taken leave of
Sept 14 To hear that poor Payne [my waiter],
hath buried a child and is dying himself. To hear
that a laborer I engaged the other day is dead of
the plague and that one of my own watermen that
carried me daily fell sick as soon as he had landed
me on Fri morn past when we had been all night
upon the water and is now dead of the plague.
Sept 31 It is feared that the true number of
dead this week is greater, partly from the poor that
cannot be taken notice of.
Dec 31 The plague is abated but many I know
well dead. The town fills a pace and shops open.
Pray God continue the plague's decrease.
Feb 3, 1667 Did satisfy myself fair in the saying;
“The world does not grow old at all, but is in as good
condition in all respects as it ever was.
Times were to grow worse over the years until at some imperceptible
moment, by some mysterious chemistry, energies were refreshed, ideas
broke out of the mold of the Middle Ages into new realms and humanity
found itself re-directed.
A Distant Mirror
Barbara W. Tuchman