Plague Doctors (Actual; Historical)


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 7, 2001
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"The plague doctor's costume was the clothing worn by a plague doctor to protect him from airborne diseases. The costume, originating in the 17th century, consisted of an ankle length overcoat and a bird-like beak mask often filled with sweet or strong smelling substances (commonly lavender), along with gloves, boots, a brim hat, and an outer over-clothing garment.[2]"
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I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
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Jul 19, 2004
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Out of Bounds
This Live Science reference article provides an overview of the iconic plague doctor's garb and the history of these physicians from the Middle Ages onward.
Plague doctors: Separating medical myths from facts

You’ve seen them before: mysterious figures, clad from head to toe in oiled leather, wearing goggles and beaked masks. The plague doctor costume looks like a cross between a steampunk crow and the Grim Reaper, and has come to represent both the terrors of the Black Death and the foreignness of medieval medicine.

However, the beak mask costume first appeared much later than the middle ages, some three centuries after the Black Death first struck in the 1340s. There may have been a few doctors in the 17th and 18th centuries who wore the outfit, including the iconic beak mask, but most medieval and early modern physicians who studied and treated plague patients did not. ...

The plague doctor getup, and especially the beaked mask, has become one of the most popular costumes in the "Carnevale," or Carnival of Venice in Italy. In fact, some historians have argued that the beaked plague doctor was nothing but a fictional and comedic character at first, and that the theatrical version inspired genuine doctors to use the costume during the outbreaks of 1656 and 1720.

Without more informative written reports and images from this period, which can help us understand under what circumstances the outfit was used, it is impossible to tell which came first: the plague doctor's protective outfit, or the carnival costume. ...

Although the beak mask costume has since become a theatrical and macabre symbol of a primitive time in medical history, in truth it represents how for centuries physicians, scientists and health officials have thought about the spread and prevention of plague. The costume represents changing ideas about the causes and transmission of disease, about the relationship between doctors and patients, and about the role of the state in protecting public health.