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- Le Livre Messire Ode | Robbins Library Digital Projects
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Those contaminated thus appeared the unfortunate victims of a dangerous and mysterious ilbiess whose origins were far from home; no threat was perceived as emanating from one's own nation or city.
Interestingly, in the early years of the malady while Italians blamed the French and vice versa, no connection was ever made between the New World, Spain and syphilis. The Columbian theory remained at the forefront of the syphilis debate in the learned community of doctors and scholars; the same groups today continue to give credit to the theory based on extensive studies of historical chronicles, medical documents, descriptions and biographical accounts of contagion.
Lofty ideas about foreign lands or the stars did nothing to prevent or arrest the spread of the new afoiction. Rather, people found explanations fix m within the social, historical, medical and religious contexts in which they lived and worked.
Their reactions to and explanations for deadly disease stemmed finm a long history of experience with plague, leprosy and other epidemics known for their devastating effects on populations; sickness was nothing new to people living during the Renaissance. Deadly, contagious afflictions were a common part of life. Warfare, questionable hygiene standards, food shortages and poverty contributed to the creation of environments ripe for the spread of disease. In the absence of germ and contagion theories, and with no reh'able cures available for most afflictions, diseases flourished and spread unchecked.
Falling ill was unfortunate, to be sure, but it also carried a connotation of sinfiuness.
In the case of syphilis, lax moral standards and sexual licentiousness, sins normally condemned by the Church, were immediately deemed the illness' cause. Nature, understood as directly controlled by divine power, is believed to sanction human behavior.
Societies thus develop danger-beliefs which explain disease as well as many other types of disaster as caused by human mis behavior. This way of reasoning gives rise to the beliefs that particular diseases or other disasters are the result of particular sins; "this kind of disease is caused by adultery, that by incest; this meteorological disaster is the effect of political disloyalty, that the effect of impiety". Notions like this have been around as far back as the written record allows us to see. They may be detected primarily through texts which set out rules intended to govern society and maintain a state of wholeness and health among all members.
One of the earliest written documents, the Old Testament book of Leviticus, sets forth rules of conduct and purity for all aspects of life, including specific commands with regard to sexual activity. These rules were to be observed by all in the interest of preserving the wholeness, cleanliness and holiness of individuals and by extension, of society.
The implicit suggestion in such rules is that disobedience to them leads to brokenness, defilement, pollution, and unholiness, states of danger in the most general sense.
Le Livre Messire Ode | Robbins Library Digital Projects
Such oppositions know no cultural or temporal boundaries, for danger-beliefs relying on the association of unsafe sinful sex and death appear all over the world, during all historical periods. Numerous myths and legends were designed to demonstrate the consequences of disobedience to laws of holiness, thereby reinforcing the law's importance. The French medieval period provides a particularly poignant example of this in a legend which suggests that a military massacre was caused by a king's sexual sin.
The legend, little-known today but popular throughout the Middle Ages, is referred to as le peche de Charlemagne or Charlemagne's sin. It relates that the king concealed a sin so horrible that he could not confess it openly to a bishop or even admit it to himself According to one version, the sin was revealed only when the angel Gabriel came down during mass, leaving a parchment scroll explaim'ng Charlemagne's sin and steps to be taken to remedy it.
Although Charlemagne repents for his sin, punishment for such an abomination would come when he least expected it. Years later, when he is traveling with his army and must decide whom to send on the risky mission to Saragossa to meet with Marsile, Charlemagne selects his brother-in-law Ganelon as ambassador. Angry about being sent on a dangerous. Charlemagne's army, unaware of the impending attack, is massacred; Roland is killed as he tries to sound a warning call on his hom.
Although Ganelon is later pum'shed, the underlying suggestion remains that Charlemagne's horrible sin led to great punishment; his army is defeated and thousands die. Charlemagne is not killed, but must bear the burden of the consequences of his sin by suffering the death of his troops and his own son.
In this way, the abominable sin of incest is shown to have far-reaching consequences for the society around him. Indeed in this legend, the army, symbolic of society, dies for Charlemagne's sexual sin. Legends like this one, containing lessons designed to uphold danger-beliefs, show the perceived relation between individual action and its collective result. When all are understood to be at nsk because of the actions of individuals, the motivation for enforcing and following behavior codes is very strong. Consequently, if you fell sick during the Renaissance, it was not only commonly believed that you had done something bad for which God was reprimanding you, the sinful party or parties were also seen as posing a distinct threat to the health and lives of the rest of society.
Resulting reactions to sickness that involve fear and shunning of the perceived source of danger often the sick individual occur when members of a given community or society feel threatened by the. When all consider themselves equally at risk, a social phenomenon occurs in which there is an automatic leveling of differences. Susceptibility to death is imposed, not chosen, and because of this, all forms of distinctiveness are destroyed; "[a]ll life, finally, is tumed into death, which is the supreme undifferentiation. Members long for a retum to an ordered, structured society in which individuality is allowed and encouraged, rather than quelled by a fear of death.
As was made apparent at the beginning of the contemporary AIDS crisis, the common, ever-repeated means of reestablishing societal order in times of plague consists first in the identification of a responsible party or group who will serve as scapegoat.
Marginalization, which may then lead to the sacrifice of the guilty party or parties, inevitably follows. When scapegoating is taken to extremes and a society purges itself of the perceived unclean. Eliminating the dangerous element allows the re-ordering of society to begin paving the way to a new-found, although false, sense of security.
True security comes only when the feared sickness disappears for good, and scapegoating does nothing to concretely eradicate the bacteria that ravage populations. Still, the fear of contagion drives groups to horrible acts in hopes of avoiding sickness. Syphilis: Specific Reactioos to a UDique Disease As history demonstrates, when diseases rage unbridled, human interpretation and response are surprisingly uniform. However, while reactions have conformed to a general pattern, within each response may be found variation, according to several variables. Prevailing social conditions at a given time and place as well as the specificity of the disease in question tend to influence reactions to it, and in particular, the choice of a scapegoat.
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Blame is in effect a social construct, a reflection of the world views, social stereotypes, and political biases that prevail at a given time. During epidemics of. In the case of syphilis, several groups were initially suspected. As is shown by the first names for syphilis, foreign nations were the first scapegoats.
This technique was momentarily satisfying, but short-lived. As the disease continued to spread, blaming became more localized. Pox-sufferers themselves were the first to be marginalized as fear of contagion was stronger than the desire to help the sick.
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Prostitutes were considered especially dangerous, and their activities were discouraged. With time, fear of contagion led to more generalized scapegoating, and soon women firom all walks of life -and sexual contact with them were deemed perilous. The unique characteristics of syphilis, including the fact that it takes several years to run its course, are the main reasons identification of a single group to scapegoat took several years to occur.
This is because the disease proceeds in three separate stages, each with different, progressively more painful symptoms. As a result, it took time for physicians and lay people to realize that all symptoms were related to the same disease. Some victims never get the initial chancre, but are still contagious. In addition, because it is relatively painless, many are never aware that they carry the infection and continue all activities normally. The promiscuous individual may thus infect every person with whom he or she has close physical contact. This symptom disappears after several days or weeks; the victim is still contagious at this point, but to a lesser degree.
Signs of syphilis's secondary stage may appear at any time up to the second year of infection. Many realize for the first time that they are sick during this phase of infection. Symptoms include fever and malaise, lesions and lumps of all sizes appearing anywhere on the body, alopecia hair loss , and swelling of the eyes and throat.
It is impossible to hide one's syphilitic status at this stage, for there is no way to mask the numerous sores. However, these manifestations of syphilis, like the initial chancre, eventually disappear without treatment. Having survived the painful secondary stage, many were thrilled to see their symptoms dissipate. It was easy to believe oneself healed with the onset of the latent stage, which is characterized by a period of no visible symptoms.
Like the secondary stage, the latent stage may last several years, again allowing contagion in the absence of external symptoms. Unbeknownst to Renaissance sufferers, the worst was yet to come. During the final, most painful tertiary stage, damage to skin, bones and visceral organs is often accompanied by generalized damage to the heart or central nervous system. Although the patient is not infectious at. Only at this point, several years after the initial period of infection, can syphilis cause death. However, the fact that women were chosen as scapegoats had more to do with the sexual nature of the disease than with its symptoms.
Already defined as greatly inferior to men in physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual reahns, women were considered by philosophers and physicians alike to be sexually depraved. The close association between women and sex made the connection between syphilis and women seem obvious. As a result, women are portrayed as the source of both sexual desire and syphius in nearly every literary syphilis text from the period.
This categorical scapegoating was only worsened by the fact that painful syphilis could not be healed; anger, frustration and fear in the face of torturous symptoms and even more torturous charlatan 'cures' heightened the need to blame some other. At the same time, however, warnings appear along with explicit suggestions directed toward men, of ways in which to steer clear of the new disease.
While the message rings out that women carry syphilis - - men beware!