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Although patriotism prevented each European country from accepting responsibility for Morbus Gallicus, and hatred of their neighbors caused them to blame the disease upon neighboring countries, they all finally agreed to credit the Americans with having originated the disease. As Dr. Wm. S. Sadler says, "syphilis" is one of "America's contributions to civilization" Bloch, Becker, and most syphilographers of the present take this view. Sir Wm. Osier says in his Principles and Practice of Medicine: "The balance of evidence, according to the best syphilographers, is in favor of the American origin."
Palm says in Death Rides With Venus, that, "the first recorded patient treated for syphilis belongs to Pinzon, Columbus' pilot. He stated that he contracted the disease in Haiti from a native woman." Becker tells us Columbus' sailors became infected in Haiti, then Espanola. This is more of the myth. It is not known what Pinzon suffered with and we are sure he did not know and could not have known that he contracted the disease from a native woman. It was not then known how the disease was contracted.
No disease resembling the "syphilis" of today and certainly no disease resembling Morbus Gallicus was found among the Indians of America. Becker says "proof of the fact that the Indians of the new world were the source of syphilis which was spread in Europe after the return of Columbus' sailors is found *** in the historical writings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries." What Becker omits to say is that these writers could not have known this to be a fact. The absence of dark field tests, Wassermann tests, etc., made the whole thing impossible.
Becker attempts to account for the failure to find "syphilis" among the Indians by saying: "The Indians from whom the disease was contracted had only slight manifestations of infection because they had had the disease for a long time, but the Europeans were attacked in a more serious manner; *** bear in mind that the Indians may have been subjected to the disease for thousands of years, and that, even now, white men have been subjected to it for less than 450 years." If Becker's theory is correct, the "slight manifestations of infection" seen among the Indians were much less marked than what is seen today among whites. At any rate the Europeans found nothing in the Indians that resembled Morbus Gallicus, and attributed the disease to the Indians not alone for patriotic, but for commercial reasons, as well. Parran says: "The insistence upon the New World origin of the disease during the early half of the sixteenth century is ascribed to a commercial motive the effort to sell large quantities of guaiacum, or the 'holy wood' of the West Indies, as a cure for the syphilis; the argument in this case being that 'Divine Providence mercifully provides the antidote or remedy for a disease so inflicted, at the place where the disease originates or among people who were thus afflicted.'"
However, the syphilographers are not to be stumped by such a small thing as the absence of "syphilis" in living Indians. They can't find evidence that the Indians had "early syphilis" or that they had the "tertiary stages;" but they have discovered that Indians who have been dead five hundred or a thousand years had the disease.
Parran says: "In support of the American origin of syphilis, paleopathologists those who study disease in human remains of the past point to the definite evidences of it in skulls and long bones disinterred from Indian burial . places of clearly pre-Columbian periods in the Western hemisphere. These are numerous and from areas as widely separated as New Mexico, Tennessee, Ohio, Peru and Argentina." Becker says that "syphilis of the bones leaves unmistakable evidence of its ravages in the skeletal remains of its victims."
He tells us that proof of the American origin of "syphilis" is found "in ancient human remains discovered in many and widely separated regions in North, South, and Central America. *** Bones of men dead thousands of years have been found with marks of syphilis on them in Peru, Columbia, New Mexico, Colorado, and other regions of the Western world proof of the existence of the disease in the Americas in pre-Columbian times."
To the writer it seems that better evidence would be proof that the Indians of Columbian times had the disease and that they also had the "tertiary stages," or "late syphilis." In the absence of such proof we can only hope that the paleopathologists are better diagnosticians than are physicians. We trust they can tell better, by looking over the shin bone of a man dead a thousand years or more, what he died of, than the physician today can tell what his patient has after he makes all his tests and examinations.
Unless immunity to "syphilis" is hereditary, there is no reason why the Indian was not as much affected by "syphilitic infection" as whites. Unless the Indian's immunity was much greater than that of present day whites, symptoms of "late syphilis" paresis, tabes, heart disease, aneurisms, blindness, deafness, etc. should have been quite common among the Indians who lacked all of modern medicine's effective weapons with which to combat infection. Pre-natal "syphilis" and still-births should have been very common. Is there a syphilographer in the whole world who will assert that these conditions existed among the American Indians? The fact is, the syphilographer is attempting to trace to the Indian a disease of the very existence of which he is not sure. He is attempting to find an origin for an epidemic that he knows very little of and of the very nature of which he is entirely ignorant.
Let us go on with our paleontological studies of "syphilis." One of the contributors to Prof. Morrow's voluminous work on venereal diseases, speculating upon the existence of "syphilis" in ancient times, says: "Should not the bones of a prehistoric race, where no efficient treatment interposed a barrier against the encroachment of the disease, exhibit in an intense degree if such disease had prevailed when our race yet survived, the osseous lesions of syphilis? It is almost true that the reverse is the rule."
Becker says, "In the old world in Egypt, Asia Minor, India, and throughout Europe never has an ancient tomb produced human remains that show evidence of syphilis. There is an abundance of material of this kind for study, yet no one has found any scientific proof of the existence of syphilis in the Eastern hemisphere before 1493." Parran says: "In the Eastern hemisphere relatively few bones have been found that are even suspicious. None of the specimens is unquestionably syphilitic. *** Elliott Smith, who has examined the remains of something like 30,000 bodies of ancient Egyptians and Nubians, representing every period of Egyptian history for the last 60 centuries, and from every part of that country, says it can be stated confidently that 'no trace whatever even suggesting syphilitic injuries to bones or teeth was revealed in Egypt before Modern times.'" Again, "so far as scientists are able to judge, syphilis was unknown to primitive Africa."
The Medical Journal and Record, (New York), March 4, 1925, says editorially (page 32): "The historian of medicine, puzzled to account for the absence of traces of syphilis from the disinterred bodies of ancient Egyptians, and indeed from the whole of the Old World previous to the very end of the fifteenth century, seeks from the study of the evolution of disease and the changes which it undoubtedly undergoes in consequence of the external conditions, an explanation of the disappearance of leprosy and the contemporaneous rise of syphilis."
Perhaps this reference to leprosy gives us a clue to the origin of "syphilis," since the two words so often find themselves associated in medical speculations about "syphilis." It has already been pointed out that "leprosy and syphilis continued to be assimilated in popular prejudice during a long period." In his poem, "Syphilus sive Morbus Gallicus," Fracastorius applied the term Morbus Gallicus to leprosy and scabies (itch), as described in the earlier Latin poems, as well as to many other forms of skin disease with which Europeans of the period were afflicted.
For ages the term leprosy, was applied to a wide variety of skin diseases and was not supposed to be the name of a specific disease, as now. Indeed the conception of specific diseases is a relatively modern conception. In like manner, the term syphilis is today applied to a broad group of pathological conditions.
Let us turn our attention for the moment to the contentions of those whom Dr. Becker calls "die-hards," that is, those who reject the hypothesis of the American origin of "syphilis." J. Parrot, late Professor of the Faculty of Medicine, Paris, claimed the existence of venereal disease, including syphilis, as far back as the "stone age." Parran says, "By Sudoff in Europe and Holcomb in America, among others, the American origin of syphilis has been bitterly attacked." He says: "In general, it is the contention of those who deny the American origin of syphilis, that the disease had long existed in Europe but in "a milder form, not differentiated from other plagues; that because of the drifting from nation to nation of armies made up of mercenaries of every nation, because of loosening of moral restraints, the unbelievable sexual laxness, and the crowded, verminous living conditions, the end of the fifteenth century constituted an ideal period for the spread of all known contagions, including syphilis; particularly those deriving from poverty, filth, and debauchery. Rather than the emergence of syphilis as a new disease, it is believed that the 1490's marked a sudden virulence of the existing syphilitic strain.
Parran, though regarding the matter of origin as merely of academic interest, seems to favor its American origin. He says: "no reference to syphilis, as now known, is contained in medical literature of the pre-Columbian period either in Europe or in Asia. Certain ambiguous references to loathsome skin sores and ulcerated bones are believed to mean leprosy, then much more prevalent than in Europe of today."
Others disagree with this and tell us that the Ebers papyrus, which treats of medicine at the time of Rameses II, contains descriptions that are those of "constitutional syphilis." Palm says, "Arab physicians of the early thirteenth century described a disease which corresponds to it, and are credited with being the first to use mercury in treating it." Certain references in the Bible are supposed to be to "syphilis," notably the description of leprosy in Leviticus 13 and 15. King David's cry, "my bones are filled with a loathsome disease *** because of my foolishness," is thought also to refer to "syphilis."
In 2637 B. C. Emperor Hoang-ty of China, ordered all medical documents in his empire collected and compiled into books for the benefit of his people. In 1863 Captain Darby, with the aid of some Chinese friends, translated these manuscripts. It is stated that a full description of a disease, the symptoms of which correspond with "syphilis," is found therein, together with a statement that mercury is a specific for the disease.
There are those who affirm the existence of "syphilis" in the old World in ancient times and those who deny that it existed before the return of Columbus and his sailors in 1492. No doctor would deny the existence of conditions resembling the two stages of so-called "early syphilis" in ancient times. They base their denial of its existence in pre-Columbian times upon the alleged non-existence of its so called "late" or "tertiary" stages.
However, it is certain that many of the conditions called "late syphilis" did exist in Ancient and Medieval Europe and Asia. For instance, locomotor ataxia was known to the ancients. So was epilepsy, and all forms of madness. Blindness, deafness, still-births, heart failures, etc. were known to the Ancients.
We are assured that Henry VIII, Louis XIV, and Ivan the Terrible were infected and this accounted for their cruelties. We know that there were cruel and mad rulers in ancient times even before Nero and Palm says: "One imaginative writer has gone back even further and states that Nero's energetic fiddling was due, not to any love of music, but to the squirming corkscrews which had bored into his brain. This tale is a bit too fanciful for truth, but if his like were to pull the same stunt today, a blood test would be very much in order."
Why would a blood test be in order now and not then? Why is the tale too fanciful for truth when applied to Nero and not too fanciful for truth when applied to Rasputin and Lenin? "Syphilis," says Palm, "holds the key to many unsolved, inexplicable crimes." Among these crimes he mentions theft, kidnapping, swindling, murder and rape. Certainly these crimes were not unknown to the ancients.
It may be urged that it is not claimed that all cases of epilepsy, heart trouble, deafness, blindness, insanity, stillbirth, murder, rape, etc., are due to "syphilis." This is well known to the author, but he also knows that no physician is capable of looking back over the past and determining which, if any, of these things, when they occurred among the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, etc., were and were not due to "syphilis." It is certain, also, that the physicians of the ancient and medieval periods would have been unable to tell which cases of heart failure or of madness were or were not due to "syphilis." On the other hand, it is claimed by medical men that locomotor ataxia is always due to "syphilis" and to nothing else.
It seems to the writer that the whole solution of the problem hinges upon the testimony of the bones, or upon the denial of the existence of any such thing as a specific disease that runs a very variable course and passes through what amounts to four stages, which, resembles almost every other form of disease known and which is unlike any other disease.
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