“Those who overlook History are condemned to repeat it.” Anonymous
Many fantastic things have been said about the importance of history. We agree with some and disagree with the rest, but there is this one thing we all agree with– history repeats itself. So, if we want to deal with this insidious killer called Syphilis conclusively, then we must know about its history.
Syphilis is very old, almost ancient. How old, how ancient?
It’s very difficult to say. Scientists have traced its presence to an era as old as 1400 AD, but they too agree that that’s the not the exact period. Its exact place of origin and time is almost impossible to ascertain. It’s not sure that it existed as early as that time but that’s not the period it originated.
Maybe it was there with the human race forever.
What is Syphilis?
It’s a dreadful “Sexually Transmitted Disease.” Its impact on any healthy individual, given the required time, is horrifying.
It can eat away your tissues, bones, teeth, and deform all important organs. It can affect the heart, brain, and complete viscera. In short, no organs and no part of the body is free from its onslaught. It can deform a beautiful/handsome individual into a horrifying wretch.
Body parts will be eaten away or fall off as a foul-smelling excretion. It can bring a shameful look and a painful death.
Excavations from ancient tombs illustrate that skulls have been eaten away at orifices and on surfaces. Bones from other parts of the body have been affected too. They were either eaten away or deformed, or both. These are classic cases because this disease was not understood then, so they hardly had any effective treatment method. At present, such cases are very rare, because we are better prepared to face Syphilis now than at that time.
How Syphilis was named
This disease was considered to be carried by foreign sailors and soldiers to the local prostitutes during their frequent sexual contacts. Before the term “Syphilis” was coined for this dreadful STD, it was known as the “The French Disease” in Germany, Italy, and Poland. Alternatively, the French used the characteristic spite to call it the “Italian disease.” In fact, people use all their racial and political spite and named this disease after their enemies.
The Christian disease” and The Polish disease.” Some, in the medical community in the 16th century, called it the “Great Pox” to primarily differentiate it from Smallpox. But, just before that, in 1530, something happened that changed all these names forever.
An Italian physician-poet called Girolamo Fracastoro wrote a religious poem in Latin. This was called “Syphilis sive morbus gallicus” meaning “Syphilis or The French Disease.” The poem was written to prove that this disease came to humans as a punishment from the Gods, especially Apollo. The leading character of the poem was named Syphilus who was the first character to get the disease as a punishment from God Apollo.
Later on, he derived the name “Syphilis” from his poem and used in his new book “On Contagious Diseases.”
The Two Hypotheses about its origin
The origin of Syphilis is yet to be established. There had been both efforts and denials to prove the exact source from where it originated.
Syphilis was present among the local people of America in the pre-Columbian era. There is no second opinion about that. Anthropologists and historians agree upon this fact. However, it’s not very clear whether this disease was present elsewhere in the world.
The Europeans, at least some, strongly believe that it’s Christopher Columbus who brought the first virus to Europe. Basing on that perception there are at least two hypotheses regarding the origin of Syphilis.
1. The Columbian theory or hypothesis
This hypothesis is based upon the belief that Columbus and his crewmen brought the first virus to Europe and subsequently to the rest of the world. The timing of Columbus’s voyages to the Americas helps in proving this theory because it occurred three years before the syphilis outbreak of 1494 at Naples.
Kristin Harper, a Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University, New York is at the forefront of this hypothesis. It’s an irony that somebody at the Columbia University holds Columbus responsible for bringing this dreadful disease to the world.
Molly K. Zuckerman and George Armelagos who hold similar views co-authored several reports with Harper. They contest the pre-Columbian hypothesis with the fact that the cases reported to be present in Europe before the arrival of Columbus in the Americas are not true cases of Syphilis.
2. The pre-Columbian theory or hypothesis
This hypothesis stands on the belief that Syphilis existed well before Christopher Columbus visited America, even centuries before he took birth.
This hypothesis holds ground on the finding of skeletal remains at certain excavation sites in Italy which shows bone degeneration similar to the effects of tertiary Syphilis. There’s another fact — Hippocrates, the classical Greek doctor, described the symptoms of tertiary Syphilis in its original form.
Anthropologists and historians claim that cases of leprosy in medieval Europe were wrongly diagnosed. They were actually cases of tertiary Syphilis.
Some famous people linked to syphilis:
Charles VIII of France
Henry VIII Al Capone
Artist Paul Gauguin
Artist Eduardo Manet
Russian author Leo Tolstoy