Doctors throughout history have been undivided that syphilis is not only a very difficult disease to diagnose, but also causes the greatest suffering to its victims.
Syphilis had another unique feature; it is transmitted while having sex – and the hypocritical attitude of humans towards having sex. Furthermore, the questions of morality and religion all make syphilis an even more complex disease.
If you were to ask me what the most horrible disease of all diseases is, I wouldn’t hesitate to reply that this is the disease that has been raging in our mind for several years.
The late Middle Ages were a time when deadly epidemics would kill cities and armies leaving only a few survivors. The very fact that a doctor who lived at that time points to syphilis, without hesitation, as the most horrible disease he has ever encountered should tell us a thing or two about the fear and terror this disease has inflicted on humans.
Where Did Syphilis Come From?
Syphilis first appeared in Europe only five centuries ago. Then, there was the question of where syphilis came and why such a sudden appearance. This disease greatly disturbed the doctors of that time. Like scientists in other fields of science, medieval doctors also did not doubt the ancient wisdom of the great Greeks and Rome.
It was widely believed that the one who brought syphilis to Europe was Christopher Columbus when he returned from the American continent.
The story goes that Columbus returned to Europe in 1494, with a Catalan gentleman named Pedro De Margarit – and at the same time was very ill with syphilis. “
Did we Learn From These Mistakes?
Modern scholars still do not fully agree on whether Columbus brought syphilis from the New World to the Old World, or perhaps it was a disease that existed in Europe before, but perhaps in a less violent and dangerous way. What is certain is that from the moment syphilis appeared in Europe – it conquered the entire continent like a storm.
Because no one knew for sure where syphilis originated, each people tended to call it the name of its enemy. For example, the French called it ‘Neapolitan disease’ or ‘Spanish disease’.
The English and Germans called it ‘the French disease’, in Russia syphilis became known as ‘the Polish disease’, the Poles gave it the name ‘the Turkish disease’ and the Turks called it the ‘Christian disease’. The Indians called it ‘the Portuguese disease’, and the Japanese called it ‘the Chinese pox’.
Incidentally, the modern name of syphilis comes from an account written by an Italian doctor named Girolamo Fracastoro in 1530. In his account, a flock of shepherds named Syphilis insulted the sun god – and were punished with the disease now called syphilis.
Was Syphilis The Greatest Disaster to Humans?
The early depictions of the disease demonstrate to us that in the early years after appearing on the history stage, syphilis was exceptionally violent and fatal.
It was so horrible for many years that it seemed to be the greatest disaster that ever happened to humanity. On the patients’ skin, there appeared horrible smallpox that often became so deep that it was impossible to cure them.
There were pains, and all the usual drugs that the doctors prescribed did not help, but even cause the opposite. The disease killed countless with no regard for age or sex; the survivors were left deformed and in constant pain. Many of those who seemed to be cured – returned to their miserable state in a short time.
The Causative Organism
The bacterium responsible for syphilis is known as Treponema. In Latin, the word means ‘the winding pale thread’ – and indeed, the treponema is in the form of a twisted thread, a bit like a bottle opener.
This helical shape allows the organism to ‘burrow’ within mucous tissues.
Perhaps the natural connection between syphilis and sexual intercourse has distorted the moral perception of the populace and even some doctors.
Many of us grow into a cultural outlook that says sex for pleasure is bad, and that God forbid having sex for enjoyment. Perhaps this distorted perception has led to the subconscious of some doctors who see their patients that are infected with this infection as less good, less virtuous people, and deserved to suffer for the public good.
We have seen similar perceptions pop up to the surface during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. There were those who claimed that AIDS was a punishment that God imposed on homosexuals for their sinful lives.
In this sense, it seems that syphilis manages to expose very dark sides to humans. If nothing goes wrong along the way, we may one day succeed in overcoming syphilis and completely eradicate it – but I’m not so sure we’ll ever be able to overcome ourselves.