The games that brought life among death

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Pablo Edronkin

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The Black Death was an event of unimaginable suffering for almost all mankind that took place between 1333 and 1352, covering almost the whole northern hemisphere except the American continent. This epidemic of bubonic plague was second to none and nothing in wholesale destruction and killing; it was more virulent than anything seen before or after, and it wiped more people than any world war, ever.

The plague took its time to reach almost every city or town; there, in the lapse of about six months it caused the death of no less than 20% of its population those were the milder cases -, and reaching well over 90% in some occasions. Bubonic plague kills people in one to seven days after the infection starts, depending on the type there are several kinds of bubonic infection -, the strength of the victim and other factors. Very few people survive, and it is an exceedingly painful way of dying.

So, medieval population, with no cure and no way of protecting themselves lived in fear; they heard the news of the plague approaching, and then they saw almost half the people around them die in pain with no way to help them. The psychological scars left by the plague where deeper than those produced by the Black Death itself; humankind ceased to believe in law, religion and authority, for none of those could help anyone.

But some individuals tried to do something about the while thing: priests and some authorities tried to alleviate the situation for their subjects as well as they could. Some physicians, like Gui de Chaillac, working at the Papal court, actually studied the infection, described its symptoms and attempted with some success to prevent further damage. The Pope was actually saved by de Chaillac proposed solutions.

And others, including writers and artists like Bocaccio, tried to lift up the spirits of people by writing tales and stories that were fun and entertaining, while some commoners took their time to invent new games with which to spend their time like those individuals waiting until bomb attacks pass in shelters and bunkers playing chess and cards, or reading books.

Morals became more "dissolute" according to self-appointed guardians of public behavior during the time of the plague, as people tried to forget what was happening around them for a while, and this renewed interest in gaming led - of course - to increased gambling and betting, and the invention of new variants of games using dice and cards. Baccarat became very popular soon afterwards, and it probably appeared in its earliest forms during the dreadful Black Death.

So much for morality...

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