In 1562, Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder completed a painting called “The Triumph Of Death”. In this panoramic landscape the sky is blotted out by black smoke; ships and dead fish litter the ocean shore; and an army of skeletons experiment with myriad death techniques. The living are badly outnumbered and the variety of fated tortures seems endless. There is little room for whimsy in this tableaux.
Over 200 years earlier, a nasty plague, commonly known as “The Black Death”, left a cruel and massive mark on European civilization, wiping out half of Europe’s total population. This was a quiet pervasion of death - an invisible pathogen carried by herds of tired rats. This plague triggered a series of social and economic upheavals with profound effects on the history of medieval Europe, guiding its survivors into the sort of self-inflicted darkness pictured by the Elder Bruegel.
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