BL: patient zero
Posted: 06 November 2016 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Not only does a myth bite the dust, but the term’s origin is a quirky one.

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Posted: 06 November 2016 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Great article. So not only does Dugas have the misfortune to die of AIDS, his name is posthumously blackened as a serial killer (deliberately infecting people) and as the man who introduced the disease into North America, both charges groundless. That’s bad luck on a cosmic scale.

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Posted: 06 November 2016 06:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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To be fair, it had long been known that Dugas didn’t introduce the disease to North America and that Shilts’s outing him as Patient Zero was incorrect, but the the genetic evidence in the Nature study establishes it beyond doubt. (Evidently Shilts felt queasy about doing it, but his publisher wanted a villain to sell more books and Shilts acquiesced.) But I had never heard the “out-of-California” explanation before. The origins hook was what caught my attention.

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Posted: 07 November 2016 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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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.

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Posted: 07 November 2016 01:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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lionello - 07 November 2016 08:59 AM

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.

[ Edited: 12 November 2016 07:49 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 07 November 2016 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’ve just read the Preface to Tate’s translation which I hadn’t read before and I can’t resist repeating this wonderful report of the death of Fracastorius.

He was above seventy years old when he died, which was by an apoplexy that seized him while he was at dinner at his country seat. He was sensible of his malady, though speechless, often putting his hand upon the top of his head, by which sign he would have his servants administer a cupping-glass to the part affected, by which he had formerly cured a nun in Verona, labouring under the same distemper. But his domestics not conceiving his meaning, applied first one thing then another, till in the evening he gently expired.

The old man must have died of sheer frustration as he watched his servants placing a succession of hats, nightcaps and God knows what on his head!

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Posted: 08 November 2016 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Sisyphis was trussed up like a hog and laid on the altar.

Is this a new character or our old friend Syphilis under a mistypological disguise?

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Posted: 12 November 2016 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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lol I don’t know where that came from, lh. Thanks for pointing it out, I’ll amend forthwith.

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Posted: 13 November 2016 10:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I don’t know where that came from

From under a rock, I imagine.

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Posted: 13 November 2016 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I see what you did there (you’re probably right, it occurred to me too).

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