Europe has experience two great plagues throughout its history. The first came in 1347, it was known as the Black Death. The second hit Europe?s most famous city, London, in late 1664 or early 1665; residents called it the Great London Plague. During these two plagues, there arose two men willing to tell the world of the horrors these two plagues brought with them. Giovanni Boccaccio, in his Decameron told about the horrors of the 1347 Black Plague. Daniel Defoe, in A Journal of the Plague Year illustrating the destruction caused by the Great London Plague of 1665. However no one really can attest to the truth of both of these accounts.
The Black Death began in China early in the fourteenth century (Viault 6). The plague then spread through the Euro-China trade routes and hit Europe in 1347 in Sicily (Vialt 6). The plague did not stop there; it traveled through Italy and soon spread to all of the major cities in Europe. It is estimated that the Black Plague killed roughly 35-65 percent of the entire population of urban Europe (Vialt 6). One of the only writers to illustrate the horrors of this plague was Giovanni Boccaccio. Boccaccio wrote out of Florence and described the ?ravages? of the Black Death in the city (Drabble 113). The Decameron is a collection of tales that were ?assembled in their definitive form? sometime between 1349 and 1351 (Drabble 260). In his ?The Disease of All Diseases? James Fenton describes his assertions on Boccaccio? s Decameron. Fenton is astonished at the knowledge that Boccaccio presents about this plague:
?What he does know, although he doesn?t quite put it like this, is that the bacterium mutated in the course of its progress?. The next source of horror was its speed ? three days or less between the onset of symptoms and death (48).?
Fenton also asserts that in his work Boccaccio did not care much for the physical aspects of the plague as much as the cultural effects (48). Boccaccio claims that the plague made people indifferent to things they once cherished (Fenton 48). Boccaccio writes of overcrowded coffins and ?heartless and immoral women? (Fenton 48).
The Plague of 1665 hit London with fierce impact. In his work, A Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe illustrates all of this. Defoe shows how at the onset of a plague, the Bills of Mortality, which was a count of all of the people dead in a week, rose by six or seven each for most towns
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(3). Also, by the year?s end each town?s burial count was up to 349 and higher in many cases (Defoe 4). Since this work is an autobiographical account and a first hand account, it made it all the more personal to read, whereas Boccaccio?s work was a collection of tales. In this work Defoe deeply delves into the dismal everyday life at London during this time:
Many houses were then left desolate, all the People being carry?d away dead?. It was said, how true I know not, that some of those Bodies were so much corrupted, and so rotten, that it was with Difficulty they were carry?d?All the needful Work, that carried Terror with them, that were both dismal and dangerous, were done in the Night; if any diseas?d Bodies were remov?d, or dead Bodies buried, or infected Cloths burnt, it was done in the Night?and everything was covered and closed before Day: So that in the Day-time there was not the least Signal of the Calamity to be seen or heard of, except what was to be observ?d from the Emptiness of the Streets, and sometimes from the passionate Outcries and Lamentations of the People? ( 174, 186).
Both Giovanni Boccaccio and Daniel Defoe depict some of Europe?s most trying times with both personal and impersonal accounts of everyday life during the two major plagues which Europe has faced. Using vivid imagery, both create pictures of a time in which there was a feeling of desperation due to the fact that there was nothing separating one person from another. Any man, woman, or child had the same possibilities of dying the same horrible death. Both writers display this very well.
Works Cited List
1. Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year. Ed. Louis Landa. London: Oxford University
3. Drable, Margaret. ?The Decameron.? Drable, 260