The havoc caused by the black death terrified most people, this led to many people trying to come up with explanations as to the cause of what was killing off people they knew one by one. Without knowledge of germs there could be no real explanations as to what was killing so many people, this didn’t stop people trying to put forward their own ideas and explanations though. With such desperation around many people came up with logical and illogical explanations in an attempt to find out what was wrong with them, here is a selection of those ideas put forward at the time.
Common sense reasons were recognised by some, these included; the state of the body, bad digestion and weakness was thought by a lot of people to be a cause of disease. It was also thought that a privy (toilet) next to a chamber would corrupt the air in substance and quality, this was a logical explanation but for all the wrong reasons in this period of time. They thought that bad fumes would be carried in the air whereas now we know that a toilet like the ones they had then would spread germs easily and cause a greater disease on a wider scale.
Another explanation was that Jews had poisoned wells everywhere, this thought about the water round them being infected but yet again around their time it was not recognised for the right reasons. Another explanation for the Black Death was “invisible fumes or poisons in the air,” on yet another occasion this was close to the real reason for the cause of the disease but just not quite right. It was thought that the disease might be spread by dead carrion, rats.
If only they had focused on this they would have been a lot closer to the cause of the disease and might have had a chance to stop it. Also it was believed that standing water in ditches was to blame, this was in fact right but the idea was not taken further. The standing water would have been full of dirt, germs and probably the disease and when the local people drank it they too would have been infected, letting the epidemic carry on around the country.
A totally illogical reason to us must have seemed logical at the time to be considered, this can be related to the theory that the airy spirit would leave the eyes of a sick man and transfer to the eyes of a healthy man looking at the sick man, the illness then goes into the healthy man infecting him. Another common reason was god and the devil, the general opinion at the time was that god was unhappy with the people of the world and had sent a plague to destroy them all. A quote from the time stated,” Terrible is god towards the sins of men…
he often allows plagues, miserable famines, conflicts and other forms of terrible suffering to arise… thus indeed, the realm of England, because of their growing pride, corruption of it’s subjects and innumerable sins. ” At this time, hatred of Jews was still around. Jews were blamed for the Black Death, one person said,” Some say it was brought about by the corruption of the air, others that the Jews planned to wipe out al the Christians with poison. In Germany many Jews were supposedly burned alive for their crimes.
Another seemingly illogical explanation was the movement of the sun and the planets. It was believed that the close position of the three great planets, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars was to blame. It was said that such a coming together of the great planets was always a sign of wonderful, terrible or violent things to come. A more interesting opinion was that of the four humours being out of balance. The idea from the time of Galen and Hippocrates was evidently thought of in the time of the Black Death.