Theory and Practice from the Medieval to the Modern
Jon Arrizabalaga Medical Theory and Surgical Practice: Coping with the French Disease in Early Rena
issance Portugal and Spain The outbreak of what was commonly known as the ‘French disease’ (morbus gallicus) – and is traditionally identified with syphilis – from 1495, first in Italy, soon became a significant social and health problem throughout the Old World. Patients from all social groups were tortured by terrible pains in bones and joints, with pustules and sores on the skin and mucous membranes which made them look deformed and repulsive to the senses. A variety of ideas about the nature and causes of the scourge circulated. Initially perceived as a new pestilence, its transmission by contagion, mostly through sexual contact, and its chronic and progressively incapacitating features were, however, soon generally accepted. Yet, the long and discon- certing course of the disease – characterised by successive clinical stages separated by asymptomatic periods – and the inability of physicians to find any suitable treatment for it, made other health practitioners such as sur- geons, either university or apprentice training, and empirics – introduce to the health marketplace many allegedly successful therapeutic innovations.1 1 Jon Arrizabalaga, John Henderson and Roger French, The Great Pox. The French Disease in Renaissance Europe (New Haven-London: Yale University Press, 1997), 29, 48, passim; Roger French and Jon Arrizabalaga, ‘Coping with the French disease: university practitioners’ strategies and tactics in the transition from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century’, in Roger French, Jon Arrizabalaga, Andrew Cunningham and Luis García-Ballester (eds), Medicine from the Black Death to the French Disease (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), 254–259. 94 Jon Arrizabalaga In...
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