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EpidemicsHate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS$
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Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198819660

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198819660.001.0001

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Naming and Blaming?

(p.95) 5 Syphilis

Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.

Oxford University Press

By exploring the wide range of names given to the ‘new’ sexually transmitted disease—the Great Pox—this chapter dispels notions held for two centuries or more. Instead, no tit-for-tat-naming war among nations accused of carrying the disease ensued. The ‘French disease’ alone became standard in medical texts, but not among commoners and not after the late sixteenth century for physicians. The chapter challenges a second truism of the historiography: that naming meant blaming. Although the disease was named after the French, no laws or pogroms ensued against them or any other ‘other’. However, physicians increasingly identified humans as the essential carriers of this new disease and became concerned with tracking human contacts. By the end of the sixteenth century, medical texts had renamed it the territorially neutral lues venerea. Coincidently, with the rise of this new name, blame placed on women, the poor, and victims of the disease increased.

Keywords:   Great Pox, naming, blaming, venereal disease, women, prostitutes, soldiers, New World, Amerindians, poetry

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