|The Four Temperaments / Humours of Galen|
When it came to bubonic plague, however - a disease that could fell a perfectly healthy person in a matter of days, and that caused large quantities of black pus / blood to pool in lumps at the surface of the skin - medieval and Renaissance medical people knew they needed something more to explain what was going on.
That's where miasmatic theory comes in.
Although the idea of microbes was still a little way off, early doctors proposed the idea that plague was caused by infection from outside the individual. The cause? Foul air, or "miasma." The understanding of what made air foul was pretty broad. A "miasma" could mean bad, stinking breath, rotten smells, or even the "atmosphere" in places where people were crowded together and overexcited - like the theatre. (But not church.)
This obviously posed a huge challenge to London city dwellers throughout the Renaissance. London was a notoriously stinky place. Open sewers, mass graves, and slaughterhouses within the city walls all proved a challenge when it came to avoiding stink.
Practices arose designed to counteract bad smells during plague time. The famous plague doctor's mask, resembling a bird beak, contained pleasant-smelling herbs at the end. Inhaling through the herbs, the wearer could avoid exposure to bad smells and thus hopefully avoid infection.
|Plague Doctor's Outfit|
|A doctor attempts to freshen the air in a plague house.|