+1 (218) 451-4151

The Burden of Disease: Arguments

The Burden of Disease: Arguments

The Burden of Disease: Arguments

Argument 1:

“What did medieval people make of this epidemic? In their view, what caused it? For most of those who thought about that question, divine wrath provided the most satisfactory general answer. Other causes were often cited, but for most writers such other reasons were “secondary,” explaining how plague came in a particular time or place. Only God’s wrath could explain such a comprehensive disaster. Furthermore, God’s anger did not in this case fall on particular sinners, as was the case with leprosy. The scale of the plague suggested rather that the whole civilization, or the whole human race, was being punished. The general social and economic hardships of the previous hundred years gave such arguments credence: man had sinned, the judgment of God was at hand (Hays, 2009).”

Summary 1:

Majority of the religious population thought the main cause of the pandemic to have a divine origin which was a consequence of God’s wrath with the population.


Argument 2:

“But the plague came anyway. Probably the gathering of city populations in processions and religious ceremonies offered more opportunities for contagion, as would the enthusiastic war bond rallies in the midst of the World War I influenza epidemic. Many responses were based on a more “natural” explanation of the disease’s cause. Many people believed in some type of contagion, regardless of official “bad air” environmentalist doctrine. Port cities refused to allow ships with plague victims to land. Pistoia imposed quarantines on the movement of people and goods. Bodies of the victims were shunned, thrown over town walls, hastily buried in mass graves while their clothes were burnt. Dogs and cats, possible bearers of contagion, were massacred, allowing the rats more license. Belief in bad air led some to flee to the pure mountains; an extreme (and well-known) example of a search for good air was afforded by Pope Clement VI, who barricaded himself, surrounded by fires, in his palace in Avignon. He survived. Measures of public health—quarantines, burning the clothes of the sick, disposing of bodies outside town walls—might also be the outcome of a “bad air” theory, if clothes or bodies were thought to produce the corruption (Hays, 2009).”

Summary 2:

In light of the God’s wrath origin of the plague, the populations gather in religious ceremonies, in a way to worship and ask for forgiveness which in turn might have actually led to the spread of the pandemic. Also, majority of the population understood that the pandemic was contagious, and hence enforced restrictive measures, for example, quarantines and proper disposing of victim’s bodies to contain its spread.


Argument 3:

“It was perhaps not satisfying enough to say simply that God was scourging the human race; had some individuals made themselves susceptible by their actions or their temperaments? Galenic theory generally viewed plague as a blood disorder, and some physical types seemed prone to diseases related to that humor: fat, florid people, and the sensually hot-blooded, especially women. As in the case of leprosy, the fornicator was a likely victim, perhaps as a sinner who displeased God, perhaps as a fool who sapped his strength; for men especially, sex was thought to weaken the constitution. Some thought revolved around questions of age, social class, or profession. The rich—especially the very rich and powerful—seemed less susceptible; physicians, surgeons, apothecaries, and members of religious orders were thought vulnerable. Others believed in a “natural predisposition,” or a hereditary propensity for the disease, consistent with some Hippocratic traditions (Hays, 2009).”

Summary 3:

People understood that certain groups of individuals were susceptible to the plague, for example sensually hot-blooded, fornicators, and some such as the rich were less susceptible.


Argument 4:

“First, the Black Death of 1347–1353 seriously reduced the population of Europe. Mortality may have ranged from 30 to 60 percent, in some places higher, in some places lower. But the plague’s impact on the European population did not end in 1353. Although controversy continues about just when the population began to grow again, much local evidence suggests that repeated visitations of plague in the years after 1353 contributed to holding populations down (Hays, 2009).”

Summary 4:

Long-term effect of the pandemic was population reduction, as it had a very high mortality rate. It is even argued that the effect on population was severe enough to even continue after the pandemic, that is, after 1353.




Hays, J. N. (2009).  The Burdens of Disease: Epidemics and Human Response in Western History. United Kingdom: Rutgers University Press.