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The Dance of Death

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  1. Introduction
  2. Science to explain plagues as natural occurrence
  3. The medieval danse macabre
  4. Representations of the macabre
  5. The two most common forms of the danse macabre
  6. The Dance of Death theme
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

The robed, skeletal figure of Death interacting with the living has become an iconic image in contemporary culture, adorning Tarot cards, album covers and T-shirts; appearing in film, books and artistic prints. Our fascination with and fear of mortality has existed since humans first walked upon the earth. It wasn't until the early 1500s, however, that the most famous imagery of Death began to proliferate across Europe, due in large part to the catastrophe of the bubonic plague less than two hundred years earlier. In this paper we will explore the history of the Dance of Death, its influence on medieval society and art, and the ways in which it has inspired artists throughout the centuries.The Dance of Death is perhaps better known by the French phrase danse macabre. The first known appearance of the word macabre dates back to the 14th century?that of the Black Death?in a poem by Jean Le Fevre, Je fis de Macabre la danse. Yet the word's etymology, according to some sources, stems from the Maccabees, the Christian martyrs from whom the Purgatorial prayer of intercession originated

[...] The Dance of Death became an ?illustrated sermon? telling the faithful to repent for their sins before it was too late (Mackenbach, 1286). The images of corpses and skeletons, along with harsh texts, were intentionally used to ensure that the spiritual message of the Church would be delivered to those who saw them (1292). This, of course, was a familiar and often successful tactic of the Church to enforce its teachings, by co-opting existing folklore and reshaping it to suit more spiritual purposes. [...]


[...] Or perhaps a worldwide disaster born of the growing climate crisis? In any case, the danse macabre whispers to us from across the ages, beckoning us to heed its warning. In the end there is no bargaining with death, no escape from the robed figure waiting to swing his scythe into the unwitting human harvest once more. Remember, thou too shall die. WORKS CITED Ariès, Philippe. The Hour of Our Death. Helen Weaver, trans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc Ariès, Philippe. [...]

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