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Abstract

This brief study examines the genesis of the “misdiagnosis” of a fourteenth- century image that has become a frequently used representation of the Black Death on the Internet and in popular publications. The image in fact depicts another common disease in medieval Europe, leprosy, but was misinterpreted as “plague” because of a labeling error. The error was then magnified because of digital dissemination. This mistake is a reminder that interpretation of cultural products continues to demand the skills and expertise of humanists. Included is a full transcription and translation of the text which the image was originally meant to illustrate: James le Palmer, Omne bonum, cap. “De clerico debilitato ministrante sequitur videre” (On Ministration by a Disabled Cleric), London, British Library, Royal 6 E. VI, vol. 2, fols. 301rb–302ra.