his publisher wanted a villain to sell more books
What’s a story without a villain to blame? Not much of a story. One is reminded of the mythical Syphilus, who supposedly brought the pox to Europe.
Yes, I remember reading some years back Tate’s English version in heroic couplets of Fracastorius’s Latin epic Syphilis: or The Progress of the French Disease and an excellent and entertaining work it is. Fracastorius was a physician himself as well as a poet and the poem mostly deals with the progress of the disease through Europe and its effects on those who caught it (told in great detail). The last part of the work is the tale of Syphilis the shepherd who became enraged after a long drought destroyed his pastures and laid low his flock. Angrily he cursed Phoebus Apollo, the god of the sun, and vowed never to sacrifice to him more and to influence his countrymen to follow suit, which he did. As anyone who recalls their Homer will know it’s not a good idea to cross Apollo, as the Greeks learned to their cost when the god ‘twanged his deadly bow’ and let loose the arrows of pestilence.
Syphilis was the first to fall victim to the loathsome disease, which quickly transmitted itself to the whole country including the monarch. The priest, whom the people begged for some remedy, came up with the tried and trusted answer of a human sacrifice to appease Apollo. No prizes for guessing who the chosen victim was. Syphilis was trussed up like a hog and laid on the altar. Before his throat could be cut though the goddess Juno intervened, substituted an animal and made things right with Phoebus. All’s well that ends well. (Even for the pestilence which set off for fresh woods and pastures new!)
Edit: I see the whole poem is online but the link I first used is one of those annoying ones that take you elsewhere. Try instead the Fracastorius wiki and scroll down to External Links where you’ll see Nahum Tate’s English version. Clicking that link works fine but if I post it here as I first did it takes you instead to the title page of Dryden’s Miscellanies, of which Tate’s work is a part. Go figure.