Editor’s summary: The Bubonic plague was a catastrophic plague that forced millions of people to die through disease and pestilence. Yet one perspective that is seldom seen in history books is what such a scary time as that looked like from the perspective of children. The accompanying gameplay is rated M.
Human history is no stranger to plagues and pandemics. No matter how technologically advanced we get these particular natural disasters always find a way to shake up the normalcy of daily life we become all too comfortable with. I found the above PS4 game, “A Plague Tale: Innocence” while researching game titles that sometimes slip under the radar due to more popular games releases. I was intrigued by the use of this particular game’s use of the theme and its choice of main characters. “A Plague Tale: Innocence,” tells the story of two children seeking to escape the violence of French inquisitors after their parents were killed, as well as keeping their distance from hordes of rats during the horrific environment that was the result of the Bubonic Plague that ravaged much of Europe. For me, the game was a refreshing step away from the run and gun style of gameplay in most action-adventure titles. In this game, stealth and quick problem-solving skills are your best weapons – and of course, the leather slingshot your character as to be able to use like a pro. If you haven’t already played the game, click here to check out this great price (through our Amazon affiliate).
Having first arrived by ship in Sicily in October 1347 from Italy, the disease spread northwest across Europe, striking France, Spain, Portugal, and England by June 1348. It then spread east and north through Germany, Scotland, and Scandinavia from 1348 to 1350. It was introduced into Norway in 1349 when a ship landed at Askøy, then spread to Bjørgvin (modern Bergen) and Iceland. Finally, it spread to northwestern Russia in 1351 and continued to spread into regions of the Middle East and Northern Africa. While the current pandemic doesn’t fully equal the size of suffering the Bubonic plague caused, a look at the impact it had on children gives the opportunity to reflect on how scary the events we are currently experiencing maybe for them. Yet we also learn how resilient children can be as well.
While there are scant accounts from everyday people of that period, we researched deep to find what we could of how this epidemic impacted the young of many of the societies of that time and drew out lessons that we can apply for today. What we learned is that while today the science of medicine is far more advanced today than it was in the middle ages, people’s reaction was quite similar (apart from the various inquisitions that took place). Many people during the middle ages self quarantined, some practiced it to the extreme of shutting out the infected and their property all together leaving them to their fate, while others took a middle course keeping a reasonable distance from those affected but still finding a reasonable means to interact with them and give them aid if they could.
Just as COVID-19 caught the world today by surprise, so did the Bubonic Plague in the Middle ages. Throughout all the chaos, however, there were people that still had the strength to form close bonds with their family in an effort to survive and live somewhat normal lives as everything around them seemed to fall apart. Children still played, either in their homes or designated safe places free of those infected and rats.
Looking into History for Answers.
The Italian writer and poet Giovanni Boccaccio (l. 1313-1375 CE), author of The Decameron which recounts the tales of a group of ten trying to escape the plague by seclusion, describes in his introduction the main ways in which people reacted to the pestilence:
“There were some people who thought that living moderately and avoiding any excess might help a great deal in resisting this disease, and so they gathered in small groups and lived entirely apart from everyone else. They shut themselves up in those houses where there were no sick people and where one could live well by eating the most delicate of foods and drinking the finest of wines, allowing no one to speak about or listen to anything said about the sick and dead outside…Others thought the opposite: they believed that drinking excessively, enjoying life, going about singing and celebrating, satisfying in every way the appetites as best one could, laughing, and making light of everything that happened was the best medicine for such a disease…Many others adopted a middle course between the two attitudes just described: They did not shut themselves up but went around carrying in their hands’ flowers, or sweet-smelling herbs or various kinds of spices and they would often put these things to their noses, believing that such smells were wonderful means of purifying the brain, for all the air seemed infected with the stench of dead bodies, sickness, and medicines.” (7-8)
We can only guess that children followed suit as they must have been utterly lost as to all that was going on around them. It’s the same today, during this current crisis that we find many of our children asking, “When will the germs go away, so we can play?”.
While we are currently still fighting to bring back some normalcy to our lives we must remember that we also have the current moment to reassure our children that through this they have their families to rely upon. By studying how people in the past reacted to plagues. We can see how the worst of their reactions affected everyone, especially the most vulnerable of their communities.