Yesterday I was watching the move 1492: Conquest of Paradise, a movie about Columbus discovering the Amercas, by director Ridley Scott. I didn’t expect the movie to be historically accurate, I just wanted to see what Scott did with it, as his movies always have some element that makes them worth watching.
While reading about the movie I stumbled upon the fact that it is most likely that syphilis was transported to Europe by the men returning from the Columbus expeditions. (Remember that on Columbus Day!) Think about that possibility; the raping, enslaving, and massacring of indigenous people was rewarded with a sexual plague. Almost makes you believe in divine retribution for a moment!
So after that I hopped over to the history of syphilis at wikipedia. (I know wikipedia isn’t always 100% accurate, but it’s a good place to start. We’re not writing a peer reviewed article here, just trying to get people thinking.) There is some fun stuff there. For instance, until the 1500’s the Italians called syphilis “the French disease” and in France it was called “the Italian disease”. The Dutch called it “the Spanish disease”, the Russians called it the “the Polish disease”, and so on. The best is that the Turks called it “the Christian disease”! People have been blaming things on “the other” since the beginning of time. I bet if syphilis were new that the Republicans would say that it was coming across the Mexican border. I’m still not completely sure that won’t come up in a debate.
There is an even more detailed history of syphilis, where some of the wikipedia article was taken from, here.
I find these kinds of things interesting. When reading this kind of stuff one realizes how in the dark humanity has been for much of the time. Also, it’s not too hard to see connections to present human behavior and realize how in the dark we are now.
More Posts On History and Syphilis Include: Powdered Wigs, Syphilis, and Tradition