Gerbils and The Plague

In February 2015, the New York Times released a post titled “Rats may be Exonerated in European Plague, Say Scientists with a Gerbil Theory.” In the short post, they detailed the possibility that the origins of the Black or Bubonic Plague that ravaged Europe periodically in the 1300’s up to the 1800’s when it disappeared had its origins in Asia, rather than Europe. In terms of evidence, researchers cite the ease at which the plague kills the would-be Rat carriers rather than their Asian Great Gerbil kin, as well as the fact that climate change patterns in Asia, not Europe, match the Plague surges most closely. It is likely that the plague spread via trade routes from across Asia all the way to Europe via trade routes and within the small rodents that would travel these routes either by accidentally falling into caravans or taking victims along the way.

It is interesting that while we are learning about the customs of Medieval times and literature, we have not yet seen reference to illness or famine, or strife in general. We’ve read about religion in “Caedmon’s Hymn”, about love and women in Chaucer’s works, but have not yet seen a piece written about the plight of the human vulnerability to pain and sickness. Whether we have not yet made it there in the course yet, or rather that such a topic was not common or looked down upon as “low register” and vulgar to latin poets and their old english peers would be fascinating to discuss. However, given that sexuality has been referenced in both light and also vulgar allusions, such as in Chaucer’s work as well as one of the Exeter Book riddles, I am more apt to believe that the absence of works on the human existence may be of greater meaning, given how devastating diseases such as the Bubonic Plague, aptly named the Black Death, was to almost the entirety of the Eastern Hemisphere during the time period- thus leading me to believe that it had to have hadsome influence on literature of the time.


~Taylor Knowles

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