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zoobyshoe
#18
Jun17-11, 03:27 PM
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Quote Quote by Evo View Post
Montezuma's real revenge?
Yes, in the sense that it was a devastating disease that went the other way: from The New World to Europe. The negative consequences of contact were not one sided at all. When Columbus sailed back to Europe the first time he was seriously ill with some unknown-to-him disease involving lesions and boils and general malaise. The symptoms were then carried from the city where he landed, by sailors and soldiers (in other words, the usual clients of brothels) to all the cities and countries of Europe, in a systematic chronological way that comes down to us in contemporary accounts. A few decades later it was all over and had taken firm hold. The works of Shakespeare were full of references to "the pox", especially in the form of a curse: "A pox upon you!", "A pox upon your house!" :references to syphilis.

I highly recommend the book, even if you find yourself objecting to her case for any given historical figure having had syphilis, because in laying out her case she paints a picture of those times when syphilis was the dark cloud hanging over Western Civilization's head. In the late 1800's something like 15% of men were estimated to be infected. People endured useless, dangerous cures involving mercury vapor. Children had it passed to them at birth. None of which could be discussed openly. Did James Joyce have syphilis? It doesn't completely matter, because in describing his case she makes it clear what it would have been like for any married man with a career to have the disease in those times, under his circumstances.

So, turning the OP question around: Were Europeans doomed to the 500 year syphilis epidemic?

That's a pretty interesting question because we have no information on how prevalent it was in the Americas. Did he accidentally stumble onto the area of origin of the disease? Would it have spread from the Carib peoples around the world by other means? Had other Americans found a way of containing it? It's maddening how little we know. (Columbus had literate priests with him who were sympathetic to the natives and wrote letters back to Spain. I guess I would scour those letters to see if the priests asked the natives anything about this mystery disease.)