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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

From Now On, Oct 12 Is Syphilis Day…

posted by on January 15 at 15:32 PM

… since it looks like Columbus brought syphilis back to Europe after all.

The fight about who to blame for syph—and what to call it—is as old as its first appearance in Europe around 1500:

… syphilis had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. In addition, the Dutch called it the “Spanish disease”, the Russians called it the “Polish disease”, the Turks called it the “Christian disease” or “Frank disease” (frengi) and the Tahitians called it the “British disease.” … It was also called The Black Lion.

Now we know—it’s “the American disease.”


“This controversy has gotten pretty emotional,” said researcher Kristin Harper, an evolutionary biologist at Emory. “Whenever you talk about a sexually transmitted disease and its origin, it seems like people want to blame some other country.”

new genetic data from deep in the jungles of Guyana suggests that while other forms of this bacterium have plagued humans since early in our evolution, it emerged as venereal syphilis only when carried back to Europe by Columbus and his crew.

The likely carrier? One Martin Alonzo Pinzón, a navigator and pilot who died of syphilis in November 1493, just nine months after returning from the New World. Too bad there weren’t PSAs back in the 1400s.


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NICE the old VD ad's from the 40's. But I think the movie "Teeth" is a better deterent.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | January 15, 2008 3:35 PM

so you are equating native women with the dirty girls from an old school vd poster....nice, think before you speak

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 3:39 PM

women who were more than likely raped as described by Miguel Cuneo who was on the crew.

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 3:44 PM

There also weren't antibiotics. But hey, you could take some mercury! I heard that worked really well for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Posted by Greg | January 15, 2008 3:50 PM

We should make this our Christmas.

Posted by Mr. Poe | January 15, 2008 3:53 PM

A syphilis for the rest of us?

Posted by heywhatsit | January 15, 2008 3:56 PM

What ever DID happen to Winona LaDuke?

Posted by Gurldoggie | January 15, 2008 4:00 PM


I think including the poster is more an indictment of outdated beliefs surrounding STDs and the PSAs about them than anything.

Posted by NaFun | January 15, 2008 4:11 PM

Every day is Syphilis Day!

Need to do somethin 'bout that.....

Posted by NapoleonXIV | January 15, 2008 4:11 PM

@7 she still works with Honor the Earth Fund, White Earth Recovery Project, and Native Harvest...

@8 the line "Too bad there weren’t PSAs back in the 1400s." may be tongue in cheek but it becomes less funny when you look at the long history of rape and colonization in the new world, begun by columbus and his men...especially when the article states that syphillis probably only reached its virulence in europe. on these continents it wasn't the deadly disease passed on by dirty men/women.

so even if it is a humorous attempt, the author is still equating the women that pinzon raped as girls who "may have looked clean but..."

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 4:23 PM

@3 -- was BAD.

Columbus and his men also used the Taino as sex slaves: it was a common reward for Columbus' men for him to present them with local women to rape. As he began exporting Taino as slaves to other parts of the world, the sex-slave trade became an important part of the business, as Columbus wrote to a friend in 1500: "A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old) are now in demand."

While Columbus once referred to the Taino Indians as cannibals, a story made up by Columbus - which is to this day still taught in some US schools - to help justify his slaughter and enslavement of these people. He wrote to the Spanish monarchs in 1493: "It is possible, with the name of the Holy Trinity, to sell all the slaves which it is possible to sell…Here there are so many of these slaves, and also brazilwood, that although they are living things they are as good as gold…"

Posted by dang | January 15, 2008 4:23 PM

Bartolome de Las Casas chronicled the darker side of this conquest...more can be found here

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 4:36 PM

What ever DID happen to Wynona Ryder?

Posted by Shwan | January 15, 2008 4:36 PM

I thought it was Anne Frank.

A tawdry, syphlitic Anne Frank....

Posted by NapoleonXIV | January 15, 2008 4:38 PM

@3, @10, and @11

I'm not exactly sure the point of the article or the tongue in cheek expressions was to do villify or justify ANYTHING Colombus or his crew did. Our generation in particular has grown up with the notion that Colombus was an idiot at best and MOST inhumane at worst. I mean, do you want to use this article as another excuses to berate him some more?

I guess as far as I'm concerned... Colombus was a douche ... he failed as a colonist or even a decent human being, but he is dead and it's over.

What I want to know, what does it say about the rates of syphilus in the new world BEFORE Colombus came? Sexual culture, etc. etc. Was this how the Mayans became extinct?

Posted by OR Matt | January 15, 2008 5:03 PM

its about how this virus was picked up and brought to europe, more than likely through rape. knowing that history, the vd poster seems to be in bad taste...pinzon shouldn't have assumed the girls he was raping were clean.

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 5:11 PM

@12 - you should also read that cool book about Argentina, as written by a woman at the time of the founding ... now that opens your eyes.

Define clean.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 15, 2008 5:34 PM

What little I know about native american sexuality was from the excerts I could stomach from pacific northwest native american romance novel that was supposed to be cultured that came across as trashy that my girlfriend was reading....

therego ... not a much.

Still, anybody that knows anything about infectious diseases knows that evolutionarily the LAST thing a disease wants to do is kill the host. Killing the host eventually kills ALL the hosts, what kind of environment and culture breeds syphilis? Maybe this fact can offer clues about native american sex?

Posted by OR Matt | January 15, 2008 5:46 PM

'Now we know—it’s “the American disease.”'

Excuse me, but this is not exactly correct.

Posted by yucca flower | January 15, 2008 5:54 PM

So is Columbo no binking americano girls no can disease happen yes, please.

Posted by Estefan | January 15, 2008 5:58 PM


OR perhaps the more historic version is another variant. Diseases often die out when they kill too many of their hosts ... Like I said, we may never know.

Posted by OR Matt | January 15, 2008 6:03 PM


OR perhaps the more historic version is another variant. Diseases often die out when they kill too many of their hosts ... perhaps Mayans

Posted by OR Matt | January 15, 2008 6:03 PM

OR Matt...ummmm. the maya are still around, quite alot of them in fact. still your interest in other people's sex lives reminds me of the earliest anthropologists...maybe you should get out a bit more, get that girlfriend to put down the novel and start living some of the fantasies in the real world. other than that i'm sure it's safe to assume that natives have had sex for quite awhile...

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 6:04 PM

I see OR Matt you want to see whether or not early Natives were sex crazed i said, some cold baths...gettin out in the fresh air, this might help you get past this.

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 6:11 PM

Mmmm, sex-crazed nymphos. I knew a sex-crazed nympho once. Wow! She was...oh, wait, wrong blog.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 15, 2008 6:17 PM

Yes there are plenty of Mayans around ... but not well ... not living like the "advanced" Mayans just prior to Colombus (god is it dinner yet?). No I'm not necessarily implying or seeking that the Native Americans were sex crazed nymphos (although that novel seemed to imply it a tad ...)

But I guess what irks me is the whole my ethnicity/culture is holier than though mentality. After we agree that it probably was NOT the anglos, I don't really think it matters ... and lets face it sex sells, has been sold and most likely will always be sold, and stories about sex are interesting.

Posted by OR Matt | January 15, 2008 6:19 PM


Since indigenous peoples had likely been living with syphilus for generations, they developed an immunity to it, just as Europeans developed an immunity to smallpox. Of course, smallpox did a hell of a lot more damage to Native Americans than syphilus did to Europeans.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 15, 2008 6:35 PM

huh? where did the anglo's come in... and no one has discussed this through their own ethnicity till you...somebody got issues

Posted by Jiberish | January 15, 2008 6:37 PM

My high school biology teacher 30 years ago told us syphilis was first spread to humans by sheep. He didn't mention the ethnic origin of the animal lover.

Posted by RainMan | January 15, 2008 7:07 PM

All you supercilious jerks oughta try out Lyme Disease, the other spirochete. Take my word for it, it sucks.

I've experienced it in the UK, and in Germany. You think you get rid of it, but uh-uh. It's a bitch.

Posted by Not Lemon, Not Orange | January 15, 2008 9:53 PM

If Leif Ericson had been a better marketer we'd all be speaking Old Norse, reading the Elder Edda, and worshiping Thor. He got around, instead of just vacationing in the Bahamas and calling it a day.

Oh, and NapoleonXIV@14 wins.

Posted by Big Sven | January 16, 2008 8:48 AM

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