At the time of the Black Death, darts or arrows from heaven were used as analogies for the plague. Among the many real world heavenly disturbances at the time I had pointed to lightning and meteor fragments. Theses recently observed pointy hail darts can be included as candidates for such symbolic descriptions, not as the cause of the disease, but as a symptom of the astronomical and geological disruptions of the 1340s before and during the pandemic.
The most consistent metaphor for plague was the arrow.
It was not by accident that Italian notary Gabriele de’ Mussis described plague as “sharp arrows of sudden death”: or that Flemish Abbot Gilles li Muisis celebrated the heaven-sent arrows that decimated the Mongol Tartars before striking Europe. Some Muslin poets also pictured plague as jinn-fired arrows. 43
The Umbrian physician Gentile da Foligna (c. 1275-1348) suggested a celestial connection to the plague and claimed that among sin and retribution, ‘poisonous darts of God’ (as first described by Homer) lay behind the plague. 44
Already seven centuries earlier, in the Justinian plague in 590 CE, Honorius of Autun described the Justinian Plague as “arrows falling from heaven.” 45
If you have seen a large shooting star or small fireball streaking across the night sky, you might get the idea that someone who doesn’t know what it is, may call it an arrow from heaven or a dragon even.
Fig. 3 ”The notion of arrows representing a plague can be seen in a curious wall painting dating from 1355, in Lavaudieu, Haute Loire, in the Auvergne region of France. Image from: Mormando, F. 2007: Piety and Plague: From Byzantium to the Baroque. Thomas Truman State Univ. Press.
The many references of fire and poison from the sky, the population reduction and the reluctance of todays writers to take these accounts seriously, evokes the phrases from Plato’s Timaeus discourse, in which Egyptian priests told the Greek Lawmaker Solon:
“(…) The fact is, that wherever the extremity of winter frost or of summer sun does not prevent, the human race is always increasing at times, and at other times diminishing in numbers. And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed (…) all that has been written down of old, and is preserved in our temples (…) and then, at the usual period, the stream from heaven descends like a pestilence, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education;; and thus you have to begin all over again as children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves.”46
To avoid confusion, this quote does not refer to the 14th century, but to the legend of Atlantis, the date for its sinking given by the priests is 9,600 BC, which happens to be the date of the extremely abrupt end of the before mentioned Younger Dryas cooling period, involving a extremely sudden rise of sea levels of dozens of meters. But let’s return to the 1300s.
43 Ibid p. 23
44 Fleming, James Rodger, Johnson, Ann. 2014: Toxic Airs: Body, Place, Planet in Historical Perspective;; University of Pittsburgh Press p. 9
45 Byrne J. P. 2012: Black Death p. 23