21 The Black Plague 1348 PERHAPS IT'S preposterous to suggest that man would not have stepped on the moon had it not been for the Black Plague. But the disease, which killed a third of Europe's inhabitants in the middle of the 14th century, took the world down many intricate pathways. Also called the bubonic plague--for the buboes, or boils, that form on the neck, underarm and groin areas--the disease was transmitted by fleas carried by rodents on ships from Asia. Europe's labor force was crippled, half the clergy in England and Germany perished, and scholars were left wondering how anyone survived. Those who did not come in contact with the plague or who developed immunities began to see the world differently. Men who had lived in virtual slavery left their lords to work the land of the highest bidder, and many even came to rent their own plots. Because people had no idea where the disease came from, it was seen as God's punishment for sinners. But when priests took sick, the Catholic Church's grip was weakened. The door to Protestantism was opened. Doctors discarded dogma and began dissecting human bodies, leading to the rise of the scientific method. This new spirit of adventure emboldened Gutenberg to develop the printing press; it would push Columbus across the Atlantic in the next century. And it would touch all that came after.