Monday, May 20, 2013

Pox perspective . . .

OUR WELTANSCHAUUNG: how much of it has been shaped because somebody creative had a dose? You know, the gift-that-keeps-on-giving, aka syphilis, aka "The French Disease"?  Creative types, like Schubert, Schumann, Baudelaire, Maupassant, Flaubert, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Wilde and Joyce and their crotch critters?

Sarah Dunant, at The Guardian, has a fascinating look at the historical effects of 'The Pox', with an article, "Syphilis, sex and fear: How the French disease conquered the world" that is worthy of your attention. You sure did not want to live before the discovery of antibiotics, syph is a nasty way to die.  As pay-back for Smallpox, this New World invader cut a hell of a swath through Europe, you just took years to die and enjoy the process.

Historians mining the archives of prisons, hospitals and asylums now estimate that a fifth of the population might have been infected at any one time. London hospitals during the 18th century treated barely a fraction of the poor, and on discharge sufferers were publicly whipped to ram home the moral lesson.

The Critter: Treponema pallidum
on cultures of cotton-tail rabbit epithelium cells
Again, until the discovery of antibiotics, there was no cure. What's old, is new again:

Much of the extraordinary detail we now have about syphilis is a result of the Aids crisis. Just when we thought antibiotics, the pill and more liberal attitudes had taken the danger and shame out of sexual behaviour, the arrival out of nowhere of an incurable, fatal, highly contagious sexual disease challenged medical science, triggered a public-health crisis and re-awoke a moral panic.

Not surprisingly, it also made the history of syphilis extremely relevant again. The timing was powerful in another way too, as by the 1980s history itself was refocusing; from the long march of the political and the powerful, to the more intimate cultural stories of everyman/woman.


Steve said...

science we dont need no stinkin science. A chronology of the Governments war on Science.

The Mound of Sound said...

It took down Capone, didn't it? I think it's called paresis when it infests the brain.