The Affliction in the Middle Ages

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The Affliction in the Middle Ages

Disease and death are most often associated with the Middle Ages because of the widespread plagues and ignorance of medical knowledge during that time period. It is difficult, however, to ascertain the true nature of illness in the early Medieval Ages because in some written sources, the author’s standpoint distorts the presentation of the disease or cause of a person’s death so that the biological cause is skewed and unattainable.

Gregory of Tours, for example, writes about two priests of Sidonius Apollinaris who rebelled against him. Both of these priests died very close to the same time of Sidonius’ death. The first priest died while in the lavatory and the second priest died while listening to a servant’s vision. For the causes of both deaths Gregory gives the credit to God, saying “the Lord passed this earthly judgement on those two unruly priests” (135). Details about the deaths are not given, but according to Gregory, they are irrelevant because the deaths were acts from God. For the first priest, he writes, “he went off to the lavatory and while he was occupied in emptying his bowels he lost his soul instead” (134). Moreover, he compared the death to that of Arius’, who was considered a heretic and “in the same way emptied out his entrails through his back passage in the lavatory,” which signifies that Gregory thinks both men died due to heresy against God (134). Gregory even says that “God in his clemency did not permit this insult to go long unpunished” (134). It is evident that the affliction, according to Gregory, is due to God’s hand.

Gregory is writing from a Christian standpoint and is a bishop who greatly admired Sidonius, described here as “saintly” and an “angel”. Gregory’s agenda is such that he would want to publicize the sins of Sidonius’ enemies while also glorifying God. This may lead him to give transcendent causation for the deaths of these priests. Since the priests and Sidonius died at around the same time, one would think that there is a possibility that they could have died from the same kind of illness. Also, since Arius and the first priest both died while emptying their bowels, it is not entirely improbable that they had been suffering from some type of intestinal or digestive disease that may have been prevalent in the time period.
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