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Boston physician, J. G. Downing, on the subject of syphilis in industry, conveying a sagacious wariness of the victories that seemed to have been won over the disease at the time. It was just about then that the curve of VD hit bottom; but that may be the reason for the speaker's unhappiness:...
VD continued to be written about by physicians in literature intended for professional eyes alone; but practicing physicians persistently avoided it, tending to leave treatment to others. In England a certain Richard Alison, described by Roberts as a tailor, was accused in 1516 of practicing physic and surgery without a license; but because syphilis was regarded as a new disease he was not prosecuted even though he admitted the charge.
The efflorescence of VD appeared just as the forces of the Renaissance were attempting to liberate the human spirit and to abolish notions of divine vengeance, whether by rationalizing them or by dissolving them in laughter.
In line with such ideas it is to be expected that the first explanations of syphilis, during the epidemic, were made in terms of punishment for blasphemy rather than for sin. Yet as the venereal nature of the disease came to be understood, the result was merely to add sin to blasphemy among the crimes being punished.
In the late Middle Ages similar prohibitions may have driven the serfs into practices which were condemned as witchcraft. Feudalism was being supplanted by developing mercantilism, weakening their meager livelihood. Recurrent plagues multiplied their woes and their fears, and the emerging powers of the Church, whose Latin service they could not understand, deprived them of almost the last of their comforts.
From very early times and in many cultures sexual practices have come to be surrounded with an aura of taboo. This happened many thousands of years ago, before man thought of disease in naturalistic cause and effect terms. Masturbation and fornication, and any behavior in young people which looked to older ones as though it might lead to such activity...
The Roman poets, Buret goes on, made repeated references to VD, often associated with male homosexuality, about which they were as cruel as men are today. Martial says the debauched Nevolus may have had a contagious disease in the region of the anus, the result of pederasty.
The Third Commandment, stating that the iniquity of the fathers would be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generations is significant, especially as it immediately follows lines forbidding the bowing down to images. Even if third generation syphilis is such a rarity, it may be argued that there is no other inherited disease sufficiently common to be preferred, especially as it concerns punishment for possible phallic worship.
Meanwhile yaws was being transported around the world, but especially to America, in slaves taken from Africa. Hudson, arguing for his idea of a single treponematosis varying only with culture and climate, would have slaves bringing yaws to warm humid areas in the New World, bejel to areas where it was cooler and drier, and syphilis doubtless carried also, and probably more often, by their masters to urban or more civilized points.
E. H. Hudson put forward a similar idea. He speaks of the evolution of villages between 9000 and 4000 B.C. Hygiene was undeveloped and dwellings were closely huddled together. Life in villages encouraged a proportionate increase of children; and with their increased contacts in play and the clothing they wore for protection against the cooler climate...