The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization

By Teofilo F. Ruiz | Go to book overview

have robbed the plague of its cruel immediacy and reality as a felt experience in time. So allow me to retell to you one of the grimmest stories in the long and troubled history of the West and the world. Late in 1348 few would have walked the city in admiration of its new and beautiful civic and religious landmarks. That year, as was the case in most parts of Europe, a violent and often deadly form of pestilence struck the city. It delivered an almost fatal blow to Florentine and European societies, to their morale, to their sensibilities. Perhaps as much as half the population of the city died within a short period of time. The poor, as was the case in the tragedy unleashed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, died in greater proportion than other segments of the population. So did the Jews, in spite of much repeated and mistaken assertions to the contrary. Parents abandoned their children and vice versa, husbands their wives. Selfless behavior and piety were often rewarded by horrible death. Selfishness, often articulated by fleeing the ill or ceasing all contact with the sick, gave a fleeting hope of survival. All around Europe, the experiences were more or less the same. For a period of almost six months— usually the time it took the sickness to vanquish those most vulnerable—life came to a stop. Governments, ecclesiastical institutions, and individuals proved incapable of dealing with the onslaught of the Black Death.

Pestilence, originating in the East, had made its way slowly along trade routes until it reached the shores of the Aegean Sea, and, then, carried by ship, Sicily. Shortly afterwards it entered the Italian peninsula and spread to other parts of Europe. Transmitted by fleabites or through airborne contamination (delivered through sneezing or coughing), death from bubonic pestilence was particularly painful and graphic. Boils in the armpits, groin, or neck, and livid marks

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The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • I - The Terror of History 1
  • II - Religion and the World to Come 35
  • III - The World of Matter and the Senses 83
  • IV - The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge 129
  • Conclusion 167
  • Index 173
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