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Problems of Medieval Europe

The setting: Medieval Europe. The problem: the pope is living in Avignon, under strict control from the French King. The plague is ravaging Europe, leaving behind whole cities of corpses. Sanitation is very poor, there are no sewer systems, and more often than not, one could find human and animal feces lining the streets. The standard of living is very low, and much of this is blamed on religion. Many people would like to see the pope dead. Solutions are virtually non-existent. The pope is looking for a way to restore his power, and improve the life of Europeans.

The main problem facing the pope was, of course, the plague. Nearly twenty-five million people had died of this highly infectious disease already, and it didn’t appear to be slowing. Medieval physicians had developed a number of “cures,” some as absurd as placing live chickens on the wounds of the infected. Due to the primitive technology at that time, there were very few actual cures. Many of the practices of the doctors were invented simply to deceive the populous into believing that they had cures, and that all was not lost. The pope, in his quarters at Avignon, sat between two large fires. They thought that this would purify the “bad air” which most blamed for the spread of the plague. Although there was no bad air, the fires actually did prevent the plague, killing off the bubonic bacteria. This was an example of what some people call “accidental science,” or a discovery made from superstition, or by accident.

From the viewpoint of a medieval doctor, there were few things you could do. Most medicine at that time was based on the four humors, and the four qualities. The four humors were phlegm, blood, bile, and black bile. Illness would occur when these humors were imbalanced. Doctors often let blood, attempting to restore balance. There were also four qualities; heat, cold, moistness, dryness. Diseases were often deemed to have two qualities, i.e. hot and dry. If a person had a disease that was hot and dry, they would be administered a plant that was considered cold and moist.

Basically what I have tried to say in the previous two chapters is that there was no medicinal cure for the plague in medieval times. If they had antibiotics, however, there would have been very few fatalities.

The other large problem that the...

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