Lecture 5 - Plague (III): Illustrations and Conclusions

author: Frank Snowden, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: Aug. 19, 2014,   recorded: January 2010,   views: 1374
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)
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One of the major cultural consequences of the second plague pandemic was its effect on attitudes towards death and the "art of dying." As a result both of its extreme virulence and the strictness of the measures imposed to combat it, plague significantly disrupted traditional customs of dealing with death. This disruption made itself felt not only in religious belief and burial practices but also in art, architecture and literature. European culture was profoundly shaped by the experience of the plague, as witnessed by the advent of symbols such as "vanitas" and the danse macabre in iconography, as well as the visual representations associated with the new cults of plague saints. The successful containment of the plague might be seen to have exercised a similarly powerful effect in shaping the philosophical project of the Enlightenment, in that the measures taken to ward off death gave material substance to theoretical claims of progress.

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