Monday, October 1, 2007


How did people react when they found out they had the plague?
Some accepted their fate with calm resignation and simply crawled into bed and waited to die. Others turned to drink and stayed drunk until the end. Many became mentally unhinged, threw themselves out of high windows, chased after the carts collecting bodies of plague victims and climbed up to lie with the dead or jumped into the giant burial pits. Women might take as many lovers as would have them so as not to be alone when they died. There was even a notion put about that a cheerful mind, obtained mainly through gaiety and dissolute living, was an effective preventative and even a cure against the Black Plague. Benvenuto Cellini of Rome embraced the idea wholeheartedly and made a conscious effort to promote such cheerfulness by shooting pigeons among ancient monuments and chasing after the city's serving girls. The latter indulgence appears to have brought him the infection and he was struck with a crushing headache, black boils and one hideously large carbuncle. His household fled in panic, leaving him alone. Frightened at first, Cellini rallied and went out riding on a little wild pony, the only source of amusement left to him. He recovered and he and other survivors formed a club of all the leading painters, sculptors and goldsmiths of Rome. Not surprisingly, the club was devoted more to merrymaking than to artistic discussion.

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