Earthquakes and Plagues

The bodies were piled in the city streets. The death wagons came through round the clock, not just at night. In the countryside, whole villages were eradicated, never to be rebuilt. Fields grew wild for lack of farmers, manors crumbled for lack of lords.

I, Capito, have been in several plague cities, but no pestilence so ravaging as the atra mors, the Black Death, one century and fifty years ago.  But every year, the Plague visits, though the zone of mortality shifts.  Last year, Strasbourg, this year Freiburg, next year, perhaps, Konstanz.  Every family, like a bruised apple, contains a dark, wasted spot of grief.  There is no one who has not lost someone.

How swiftly the destruction falls on us!  We rise in the morning with plans for the day.  By night, the buboes having appeared upon us, we know we shall likely die after days of agony, perhaps three, perhaps five, or even before the day is through.  Until that death, all matter which our bodies exude gives a terrible stench as if, though still living, we decompose.

We are baffled, terrified, and helpless.

So why not take the advice of Job’s wife: curse God and die?  Why not, like a desert mystic, retire to a cave in a wadi and renounce all human endeavor as useless?  Why set pen to paper, paint to canvas, or tool to invention?  One may not live to finish book or painting or device, if tomorrow he is as destined to putrefied flesh as an animal.

And yet, it is impossible to deny the nobility of man, the great stretch of his dreams, the great scope of his vision.  What is man that you remember him?  You have made him a little lower than angels.  You have crowned him with glory and honor.

Only man writes or paints or invents.  Only man seeks truth.  Only man considers who he is.  Surely, this is the spark of Divinity, that part of man that exceeds and transcends any death, no matter how swift or agonized or degrading. 

Perhaps we shall all die from plague or earthquakes, war or flood.  Perhaps the race of man will be snuffed out.   Perhaps the earth shall break apart in fountains of fire.

Or perhaps, half a millennium hence, a future man in an unfathomable age will look upon our sixteenth century and say: see with what vitality and genius they built, with what vision they painted, with what depth they thought.  They changed everything in the little day that they had.

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Johann Froben • Nicolaus Copernicus • Al-Birjandi • Jacopo Tintoretto • Jacques Cartier • Properzia de Rossi • Thomas More • Jane Lumley • Bernal Diaz del Castillo • Miguel de Cervantes • Isabella Whitney • Leonardo da Vinci • Thomas Linacre • Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma’ruf • Marko Marulić • Levina Teerlinc • Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon • Michelangelo Buonarroti • Katharina Zell • Abraham Ortelius • Lavinia Fontana • Sofonisba Anguissola • Estevanico • Edward Wotton • Baltissare Castiglione • Johann Amerbach • Domenikos Theotokopoulos • Hans Holbein • Pieve di Cadore • Vasco Nunez de Balboa • Tycho Brahe • Hieronymus Bock • Diana Scultori Ghisi • Niccolò Machiavelli • Giovanni da Verrazzano • François Rabelais • Juan Ponce de Leon • Martin Luther • Arthur Brooke • Pieter Brueghel • Christopher Columbus • John Foxe • Raphael • John Lyly • Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca • Lucas Cranach • Joan Perez de Lazarraga• Amerigo Vespucci • Martin Waldseemüller • Jost Amman • Conrad Grebel • Gaspara Stampa • William Shakespeare • Catherine Vasa • Desiderius Erasmus • Francis Bacon • Teresa of Avila • Giuseppe Arcimboldo • Edmund Spenser • Johann Fabri • Hans Sebald Beham • Pedro Alvares Cabral • Cvijeta Zuzoric • Thomas Nashe • Ferdinand Magellan • Mary Sidney • Hwang Jin-i • Frederick III • Christopher Marlowe • Ulrich Zwingli • Aldus Manutius • Katerina Lemmel • Sebastian Cabot • Hernando de Soto • Anne Askew • Menno Simons • Philip Sidney • Barbara Longhi • Michael Sattler • Jost Fritz • Bartolomeu Dias • Wu Cheng’en • Marguerite de Navarre • Parmigianino • George Peele • Anna Bülow • Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo • John Knox • Anna Bijns • Vincente Pinzon • Bathalzar Hubmaier • Robert Estienne • Philip Stubbes • Richard Hakluyt • Luis Vaz de Camões • Francisco Vasquez de Coronado  • Jane Anger • Gaspar Corte Real• Vasco da Gama • Wolfgang Capito • Esther Inglis • Juan de Yepes • Johann Eck • Jodocus Badius • Abul Qasim ibn Mohammed al-Ghassani • William Clowes • Giorgio Vasari • Peter Henlein • Gerardus Mercator . . .

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Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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