28. Morals and Microbes – Theodor Rosebury
I found this book on the blog Awful Library Books , which is excellent and basically sums up the main reason why I enjoy working in libraries – you find the weirdest books. It’s mind-boggling looking through what’s been published and purchased by libraries and Awful Library Books really has some solid highlights. It’s also where I found out the Satanic Panic children’s book Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy existed. #blessed
Morals and Microbes is just as “surprisingly readable” as Awful Library Books indicated it was. It’s from 1971, so a few things have happened since it was published, a few scientific things and some attitudes towards different kinds of people…but I learned a lot that I wasn’t already aware of about syphilis (Yay!) and gonorrhea and I had a good time doing it. Especially when I was reading the chapter called “Shakespeare and VD” on a plane and the person in the seat next to me noticeably tried to inch away – Thanks, Morals and Microbes! He smelled like cologne, which bothers me to no end, so, I’m happy just reading about VD made him want to flee from me.
Syphilis is basically the best venereal disease, or maybe just the most impressive. It’s an insidious plague that’s been around for a very, very long time. Apparently the lepers of the Bible probably really had syphilis as it has symptoms (the collapse of the nasal bridge known as “saddle nose,” what a phrase) that seem like leprosy but leprosy is less contagious than syphilis. Tons of cool artsy people had it, but I knew that, tons of not-cool artsy people also had it. In chapter four, “Syphilis or the French Disease,” Rosebury goes through a long list of Europeans blaming other people for syphilis. Columbus, of course, blamed Native Americans, one more reason why he’s a jerk. He brought it with him… Everybody knows it. The Italians blamed the French (“The French Disease”), the French blamed the Italians right back (“Mal de Naples”), the Germans also blamed the French (“French pox”), the English also blamed the French – no surprise there-, the Portuguese blamed the Dutch, the Persians turned around and blamed the Portuguese, the Polish people blamed the Turks, and Russians called it “The Disease of the Germans,” bringing the seriously weird line back to Europe. Nice.
And while I really like reading about diseases in a not-so-clinical volume such as this, the word “chancre” was used so many times that it started to gross me out. As did the mention of John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster, dying of “putrefaction of the genitals” attributed to “carnal copulation.” That mental image left a mark.