By Mary Lucas Powell, Della Collins Cook
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Extra info for The Myth of Syphilis: The Natural History of Treponematosis in North America
In medicine and in paleopathology, a narrowly positivistic approach to evidence for disease is the norm; nevertheless, we should keep in mind that historical accounts of treponematoses are products of their social context, and so are paleopathologists’ accounts of ancient peoples.
Surprisingly, the European physicians who treated the first victims and penned the first descriptions of this new disease did not immediately associate its appearance with Columbus’s landing on the island of Hispaniola in 1492 and his subsequent return to Spain in 1493. Explanations abounded, among them that the disease was “the result of the intercourse of a leprous knight and a courtesan, or of the coupling of men and monkeys, or of the vengeful Spaniards mixing lepers’ blood with Greek wine, or of the Neapolitans treacherously poisoning wells at the time of the French invasion” (Quétel 1990:33).
Hudson emphatically believed that this new pattern of infection reflected changed human behavior, not a changed pathogen: It is inaccurate to state that this created a “venereal parasite,” or replaced a nonvenereal with a venereal one. Since to the spirochete the human body was a suitable host, it did not matter whether it entered through the skin, the mouth, or the genitals. . It was simply that—in a relatively clean and clothed society—coitus in practical terms became the only personal contact of sufficient intimacy to permit transmission of treponemes.
The Myth of Syphilis: The Natural History of Treponematosis in North America by Mary Lucas Powell, Della Collins Cook