An Analysis of Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’

Poe’s story follows many traditions of Gothic fiction and is often analyzed as an allegory about the inevitability of death. Introduction “The Masque of the Red Death” (originally published as “The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy”) is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842. The story follows[…]

Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’

A full reading of Poe’s work. By Edgar Allan Poe (1842) The Masque of the Red Death is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842. The work follows in full (public domain): The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so[…]

Petrarch’s Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Medieval Time of Pandemic

How he chronicled, commemorated, and mourned his many loved ones who succumbed. This article, Petrarch’s Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Time of Pandemic, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ The Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch lived through[…]

The Post-Plague English Peasant Revolt of 1381

With the plague decimating the ranks of laborers, surviving workers rebelled against the crown’s higher taxes and restrictive labor laws. Introduction As a professor of medieval Europe, I’ve taught the bubonic plague, and how it contributed to the English Peasant Revolt of 1381. When a deadly disease started to spread, the most vulnerable and powerless[…]

The Fate of Religious Minorities during the Medieval Black Death

The plague swept through Christian Europe and Islamdom at roughly the same time – between 1347 and 1351. Pandemics are nothing new—they scythed through the ancient world as they did the pre-modern and, as we know to our grief and confusion, they are still mowing us down today. We might think that human nature is[…]

The Deathly ‘Bird’ Costumes of Early Modern Plague Doctors

The costumes were meant to combat the contagious miasma. This article, Plague Doctor Costumes, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Today, with the coronavirus now officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, images of hazmat suits and medical[…]

‘London’s Dreadful Visitation: Death during the Great Plague’ (1665)

This article, London’s Dreadful Visitation: A Year of Weekly Death Statistics during the Great Plague (1665), was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Epidemics are on all our minds right now. Probably many of us could use a break from the[…]

From Pandemic Then Grew Rebellion: The 1381 Revolt of the English Peasantry

There was a brief moment in 1381 when a better world struggled to be born, but the promise of that moment was deferred. On July 13th in 1381, a garrison of rebelling peasants from Norfolk, Essex, and Kent marched into London, the gates of the city left open either out of sympathy for the cause of[…]

Effects of the Black Death on Europe

The Plague ushered in a new understanding which found expression in movements such as the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. Introduction The outbreak of plague in Europe between 1347-1352 CE – known as the Black Death – completely changed the world of medieval Europe. Severe depopulation upset the socio-economic feudal system of the time but[…]

Religious Responses to the Black Death

People reacted with hopeful cures and responses based on religious belief. Introduction The Black Death of 1347-1352 CE is the most infamous plague outbreak of the medieval world, unprecedented and unequaled until the 1918-1919 CE flu pandemic in the modern age. The cause of the plague was unknown and, in accordance with the general understanding[…]

Medieval ‘Cures’ for the Black Death

Since no one knew what caused the disease, no cure was possible, but this did not stop people from trying what they could. Introduction The Black Death is the 19th-century CE term for the plague epidemic that ravaged Europe between 1347-1352 CE, killing an estimated 30 million people there and many more worldwide as it[…]

A History of Biological Warfare since Ancient Greece

We get our English word for poison or toxin form the Greek word toxikon. By Thomas J. JohnsonRetired Program Director, Respiratory CareLong Island University In Sophocles’ play Philoctetes (404 B.C.E.), he describes the main character Philoctetes as wounded by a poisoned arrow on his way to the Trojan War. This is the stuff of legend[…]

Daniel Defoe’s ‘Journal of the Plague Year’, 1722

Reports reached London in 1720 and 1721 that the plague had already killed tens of thousands in Marseilles. Almost three hundred years ago, in 1722, shortly after he published Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe wrote a similarly fact-based fictional narrative—A Journal of the Plague Year—to warn of what to expect if the bubonic plague were to afflict[…]

Tales from a Medieval Plague Pit

We can now catch tiny pieces of DNA from ancient diseases and look for clues about how their genes have changed over time. Introduction The Black Death is without a doubt one of the most famous infectious diseases in history. Sweeping across Asia and Europe during the mid-fourteenth century, it reduced European populations by as[…]

Reactions to Plague in the Ancient and Medieval World

People felt overwhelmed as it seems as though they believed that what had happened to others elsewhere could not possibly happen to them. Introduction Throughout history, epidemics and pandemics of plague and other diseases have caused widespread panic and social disorder even, in some instances, when the people of one region were aware of a[…]

Plagues of the Ancient and Medieval Near East, 562-1486 CE

The first definitive outbreak of plague was the Plague of Justinian as recorded by Procopius which killed an estimated 50 million people. Introduction Disease has been a part of the human condition since the beginning of recorded history – and no doubt earlier – decimating populations and causing widespread social upheaval. Among the worst infections[…]

Shakespeare in Plague-Ridden London

Despite the plague’s high contagiousness and terrifying symptoms, life in Elizabethan England went on. By Lindsey Rachel Hunt William Shakespeare died 400 years ago, in April of 2016. But, thanks to the plague’s many sweeps through London, he could have actually died much, much sooner. While the plague hit London particularly hard in 1665, it[…]

The Most Vulnerable Suffered when Ancient Greek City-States Purged during Times of Disease

The Greeks treated their city-states like bodies. To protect them from disasters, it was the poor that were often sacrificed. Introduction With the spread of the coronavirus, the world is becoming pointedly aware of the extent to which human beings are interconnected. The rapid spread of the virus has highlighted how much we are dependent[…]

The Cultural Constants of Contagion from the Justinian Plague to Today

It is a shared affliction, our collective ailment, our common humanity, that gives rise to irrational behavior but also kindness. Sometime during the year 541, a few rats found their way into Byzantium. Soon more would arrive in the city. Whether they came from ships unloading cargo in Constantinople’s bay, or overland in carts bringing[…]

A History of Tuberculosis since the Ancient World

The Code of Hammurabi and writings from ancient Greeks mention this “lung wasting” disease and their treatments for it. By Dr. John Frith Phthisis, Consumption, and the White Plague Overview A phthitic soldier is to his roommates what a glandered horse is to its stablemates.[1] Jean Antoine Villemin, French Army surgeon, 1865 Tuberculosis is an[…]

An Empire’s Epidemic: DNA Provides Answers to the Sixth-Century Plague

Disease-bearing mice from lower Egypt reached the harbor town of Pelusium in 540 CE. By Thomas H. Maugh IIStaff WriterLos Angeles Times Introduction By the middle of the 6th century, the Emperor Justinian had spread his Byzantine Empire around the rim of the Mediterranean and throughout Europe, laying the groundwork for what he hoped would[…]

Plagues Follow Bad Leadership in Ancient Greek Tales

Plagues functioned as a setup for an even more crucial theme in ancient myth: a leader’s intelligence. Introduction In the fifth century B.C., the playwright Sophocles begins “Oedipus Tyrannos” with the title character struggling to identify the cause of a plague striking his city, Thebes. (Spoiler alert: It’s his own bad leadership.) As someone who[…]

Medieval Hygiene: General Habits and Expectations

Urban centers especially had become centers of plague and disease outbreaks. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction People in the Middle Ages have acquired something of a bad reputation when it comes to cleanliness, especially the peasantry. However, despite the general lack of running water and other modern amenities, there were common expectations of personal hygiene such[…]

The Plague in Ancient Athens

The city-state of Sparta, and much of the eastern Mediterranean, was also struck by the disease. Introduction The Plague of Athens was a devastating epidemic that ravaged the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece in 430 B.C.E., during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.), when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach.[…]

Why Ancient Plague Didn’t Lead to Widespread Epidemics as in the Medieval Era and Beyond

People caught and died from plague long before it caused major epidemics like the Black Death in the middle ages. Introduction One of civilization’s most prolific killers shadowed humans for thousands of years without their knowledge. The bacteria Yersinia pestis, which causes the plague, is thought to be responsible for up to 200 million deaths[…]

Justinian’s Plague (541-542 CE)

The outbreak continued to sweep throughout the Mediterranean world for another 225 years, finally disappearing in 750 CE. Introduction During the reign of the emperor Justinian I (527-565 CE), one of the worst outbreaks of the plague took place, claiming the lives of millions of people. The plague arrived in Constantinople in 542 CE, almost[…]

The Plague at Athens, 430-427 BCE

The epidemic killed upwards of 1/3 of the population; a population which numbered 250,000-300,000 in the 5th century BCE. Introduction In the 2nd year of the Peloponnesian War, 430 BCE, an outbreak of plague erupted in Athens. The illness would persist throughout scattered parts of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean until finally dying out in[…]