In the work "Tractado contra el mal serpentino" written in 1510 and published in 1539, Ruy Diaz de Isla refers to have cured, during the travel of return in Europe, many members of the shipment of Columbus, affections from certain luetic manifestations and thinks the new disease was imported from Hispaniola (Haiti).

Bartolomè de Las Casas had conceived the same opinion. In the "Historia de Las Indias" he wrote as between the Conquistadores the idea of the "bestiality" of the wild Americans was prevalent and the disease would have been known already previously in the New World.

Moreover the most modern historiography places the accent on the instrumentalization of this idea to the ends of the colonial enslavement. The aborigines: lustful, inferiors, "homuncoli" (De Oviedo), naturally needy of being converted and to receive, therefore, with the faith also the slavery.

In Italy the disease was manifested in epidemic shape in 1494
with sieges of Naples by the French troops on the orders of Charles VIII who died to the age of 28 years, possibly from cerebral syphilis (G. Del Guerra). A group of approximately 800 prostitutes was aggregated to the French troops and not there is doubt that just the dissemination of the prostitutes in the armies and between the population contributed in maximum part to disseminate the syphilis that in our peninsula was called "mal francese" while for the French it was "mal napolitain".

In Rome, towards the end of the '400, clandestines excluding, were available approximately 6800 prostitutes. In Venice the prostitutes were forced to walk with a yellow handkerchief
around the neck like sign of acknowledgment. It was the sexual abstinence that the Church adopted as a remedy in order to avoid
such disease and Pope Paul IV, around to the half of the '500,
decreed with an edict an evicting from Rome and all the Papal State of the prostitutes.

The popular rebellion forced the Church to find a center to pratice prostitution across Tevere: today Trastevere. In the " De preservatione a carie gallica" of 1555, Gabriele Falloppia devised one individual protection against syphilis consisting in one patch of linen to shape of bag "ad mensuram glandis" soaked with mercury: it was the forerunner of the modern condom.

That nevertheless the disease continued to claim victims in all social ranks, including clergy and nobility. Illustrious sick they were Francesco I King of France and Pope Giulio II. The religious make appeal to the protecting of Saint Giobbe and Saint Dionigi, the astrologers to the study of planets tryng remedy to the negative conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn in the sign of Scorpion, even therapeutics powers were attributed to the wood of Guaiaco of the Antilles, called "Saint wood".

Five centuries after the epidemic of syphilis another venerel disease is spreading, finding current medicine completely unprepared it has made the Church call again for sexual abstinence, the sanctimonious people speak of divine punishment,
what the men of the 20th century have called AIDS.

Prof. Camillo O. DI CICCO, M.D.
14th Congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, London, UK
Published in Journal of European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology
Volume 19, Supplement 2, 1-411, October 2005


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Di Cicco C.: "History of Syphilis" 14th Congress of European Academy of Dermatology & Venereology, London. JEADV Vol.19, Suppl.2, 1- 411,2005.