|Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat |
of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants;
Robert Sullivan; 2004
The other part of me is glad that Mr. Sullivan was around to write this book now, inspired by John James Audubon's painting of rats. In time of plague, Rattus rattus or the black rat, was the one that carried the flea infected with Yersinia pestis.
Did you know that the North American continent may have been populated by Greenlanders had it not been for the plague? Natives from Greenland would come down and visit once in a while, but the Little Ice Age and the plague wiped Greenlanders out completely. The Europeans and Asians were too weakened and distracted by their troubles to go out and adventure. The Byzantine Empire fell, perhaps because of the plague. It likely didn't do wonders for the Roman Empire either.
The ultra-short history of the plague caused by Yersinia pestis is that the first epidemic may have been in 1320 BC, affecting the Philistines. It later wiped out one-half of the Roman empire ruled by Emperor Justinian. The first pandemic of Black Death in Europe started in 1338 AD. During the rather large gap in time between Justinian and 1338 is interesting. In the area which is now Turkistan, it is thought that marmots carried the plague-infested flea, but no epidemic ensued. No one really knows why no plague is documented during this time--a peaceful coexistence between the flea and nomads, perhaps.
Woman Catching a Flea;
Georges de La Tour; 1638
Later, when the silk trade route expanded to the west from China, plague disease began again, in towns along the route, driving plague from China to Europe, up the Volga river to the Black Sea, and its ports.
At these seaports, rats would embark and disembark, with little notice. This lead to the spread of Yersinia pestis throughout Europe. Plague spread fear, yet the cause was not known. People tried with aromas to protect themselves from the bad air--miasma. Planet alignment was blamed. Doctors wore masks to filter the air and keep the bad smells out as they tended to the sick [what could they do really, but try to calm their patients?]. The long coats that they wore kept the fleas off the doctors, as long as they changed their clothes frequently [not always done].
Many statues and plaques commemorate the dead due to the plague. A significant amount of artwork depicting the plague doctor exists. One of the more recognizable depictions is shown to the upper-right of here. More modern art is in abundance, with masks, costumes, drawings, paintings, and sculpture. Here is one that drew my attention, by Ekonk on deviantART.
The Plague Doctor by ~Ekonk on deviantART
Curiously reminiscent of plague doctors;
Antonia Prohias; MAD Magazine
America has also been touched by plague, and plague is endemic [in the wild] in some areas of the southwest. Illness with plague continues, but is far less of a concern than it used to be. There is treatment, which makes it inexcusable to hear of people dying from it now.
Another very readable source that describes the plague in detail, from the non-rat perspective is: