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De nomine Latino[fontem recensere]
The term "atra mors" occurs in Latin historical texts, but it doesn't seem that it was used on this occasion. For an example see J. J. Pontanus, Rerum Danicarum Historia (1631), p. 476, as discussed on this page, cf. footnote 10. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the term "magna mortalitas" as the contemporary Latin equivalent for the Black Death, alluding to a text of c. 1440 but without a precise citation (it's an English dictionary after all). Sure enough, via Google I found "magna mortalitas" used in an annal for 1349 which was copied c. 1456 (I've cited it in a footnote). Whether that's the same text alluded to in the Oxford English Dictionary, or another, I don't know.
The phrase "black death" (mors nigra) was used in 1350 by Simon de Covino or Couvin, a Belgian astronomer, who wrote the poem "On the Judgment of the Sun at a Feast of Saturn" (De judicio Solis in convivio Saturni), which attributes the plague to a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. In 1908, Gasquet claimed that use of the name atra mors for the 14th-century epidemic first appeared in a 1631 book on Danish history by J. I. Pontanus: "Commonly and from its effects, they called it the black death" (Vulgo & ab effectu atram mortem vocatibant). The name spread through Scandinavia and then Germany, gradually becoming attached to the mid 14th-century epidemic as a proper name. However, atra mors is used to refer to a pestilential fever (febris pestilentialis) already in the 12th-century On the Signs and Symptoms of Diseases (Formula:Lang-la) by French physician Gilles de Corbeil. In England, the phrase "Black Death" is first used to refer to the 14th-century epidemic in 1823. Writers contemporary with the plague described the event as "great plague" or "great pestilence".
- On page 22 of the manuscript in Gallica, Simon mentions the phrase "mors nigra" (Black Death): "Cum rex finisset oracula judiciorum / Mors nigra surrexit, et gentes reddidit illi;" (When the king ended the oracles of judgment / Black Death arose, and the nations surrendered to him;).
- A more legible copy of the poem appears in: Emile Littré (1841) "Opuscule relatif à la peste de 1348, composé par un contemporain" (Work concerning the plague of 1348, composed by a contemporary), Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes, 2 (2) : 201–243; see especially p. 228.
- See also: Joseph Patrick Byrne, The Black Death (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004), p. 1.
- Francis Aidan Gasquet, The Black Death of 1348 and 1349, 2nd ed. (London, England: George Bell and Sons, 1908), p. 7. Johan Isaksson Pontanus, Rerum Danicarum Historia ... (Amsterdam (Netherlands): Johann Jansson, 1631), p. 476.
- The German physician Justus Hecker (1795–1850) cited the phrase in Icelandic (Svarti Dauði), Danish (den sorte Dod), etc. See: J. F. C. Hecker, Der schwarze Tod im vierzehnten Jahrhundert [The Black Death in the Fourteenth Century] (Berlin, (Germany): Friedr. Aug. Herbig, 1832), page 3.
- See: Stephen d'Irsay (May 1926) "Notes to the origin of the expression: atra mors," Isis, 8 (2): 328–332.
- The name "Black Death" first appeared in English in:
- "Mrs. Markham" (pen name of Elizabeth Penrose (née Cartwright)), A History of England ... (Edinburgh, Scotland: Archibald Constable, 1823). In the 1829 edition, the relevant text appeared on pages 249–250, where, about the English king Edward III, she wrote: "Edward's successes in France were interrupted during the next six years by a most terrible pestilence — so terrible as to be called the black death — which raged throughout Europe, and proved a greater scourge to the people than even the calamities of war." (For further information about this book and Mrs. Penrose, see: Wikisource and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
- See also: J. L. Bolton, "Looking for Yersinia pestis: Scientists, Historians and the Black Death" in: Linda Clark and Carole Rawcliffe, ed.s, The Fifteenth Century XII: Society in an Age of Plague (Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2013), p. 15.
- J. M. Bennett and C. W. Hollister, Medieval Europe: A Short History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), p. 326.
- John of Fordun's Scotichronicon ("there was a great pestilence and mortality of men") Horrox, Rosemary (1994). Black Death. ISBN 978-0-7190-3498-5
- Good job Jondel!! A lot of useful sources there. But just to remind us that we can't get securely back to Latin by re-translating from English, I checked the last of those footnotes. En:wiki says "great pestilence" and cites Rosemary Horrox's translation from John of Fordun's Scotichronicon, which is in Latin. But in Latin John of Fordun actually says "Tanta pestilentia et mortalitas hominum in regno Scotiae erat", there was so great a pestilence and mortality of men in the kingdom of Scotland ...: Fordun doesn't give us a proper term such as "magna pestilentia".
- Curiously, the English wiki (in your quotation above) cites Gasquet as confirming that Pontanus meant the Black Death with his term atra mors, whereas, if you actually read Gasquet (my link above, here) he is doubtful about this. If you then read d'Irsay's article cited in your footnote 4 (I read it via JSTOR), you'll find that he cites Seneca and Gilles de Corbeil, both of them saying that "atra mors" is the sequela of the plague-like disease to which they are referring, but neither of them calling the plague itself "Atra mors"; and neither of them is talking about this particular 1347/1351 event, which hadn't happened in their time. So I'm not yet sure that "Atra mors", or indeed "Mors atra", will work as a proper name. Andrew Dalby (disputatio) 15:13, 1 Iulii 2018 (UTC)
- Well there may be grounds for Gasquet's doubt, but there would probably have been no confusion to which disease was being referred to, with the use of 'atra mors' (or 'mors atra'?) when the Scandinavians and Germans mentioned it and after. The 14 century plague overshadowed the sequela which would have become insignificant due to the difference in magnitude. If somehow, all English meanings of Black Death, German 'Schwarzen Todes' , 'atra mors' , 'mors atra' , 'mors negra' were made to point to the original and insignificant 'sequela' it might create more confusion. (? En, tibi? ) ----Jondel (disputatio) 15:53, 1 Iulii 2018 (UTC)
- Perhaps a note about Gaquet's doubt and a mention of the original meaning would be appropriate. I can do this.--Jondel (disputatio) 16:01, 1 Iulii 2018 (UTC)
- I'm not saying "Atra mors" is impossible. By all means let's find a Latin source for it with this meaning. I just haven't encountered one yet. Have you looked at Pontanus?
- Your first footnote gives us "Mors nigra", which is being used as a poetic personification: the nations surrendered to him or her or it. It is absolutely contemporary and Latin, as is the "magna mortalitas" which I have already cited on our page. I guess both of these are candidates. Andrew Dalby (disputatio) 16:05, 1 Iulii 2018 (UTC)
- I was supposed to be doing something else this afternoon, in what they call real life ... Ah, well, the best-laid plots of mice and men gang aft agley.
- I have now looked at Pontanus. You find the text here, on page 476. Those are big pages. Luckily the crucial phrase is in italics.
- All right, wait for it ... the facts come out in favour of "Mors atra". Nice one, Jondel! Gasquet really had no reason to doubt. "People commonly called it mortem atram, says Pontanus, summing up his description of the plague of 1348. You couldn't ask for better. Go with it, I say. Now I shall have a large glass of cider (made by myself) alongside roast pork (cooked by Maureen). Andrew Dalby (disputatio) 16:20, 1 Iulii 2018 (UTC)
- Have a great one Andrew! Are you native to French(I know you're British). I ask cause I see the French version of google from your links. I'm still reading yours and other references, google Pontanus keeps bringing me to Gasquet. I'm glad the 'Mors atra ' issue is resolved though.--Jondel (disputatio) 16:32, 1 Iulii 2018 (UTC)