HISTORY, SEX AND SYPHILIS: Famous Syphilitics and Their Private Lives

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9781634908290: HISTORY, SEX AND SYPHILIS: Famous Syphilitics and Their Private Lives
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"History, Sex and Syphilis: Famous Syphilitics and their Private Lives," by Tomasz F. Mroczkowski, MD, is a fascinating and iconoclastic read. Written by a well-qualified physician and specialist, the author incorporates his extensive knowledge of the history of the disease with the private lives of the great writers, musicians, and artists who shaped Western Civilization, and who suffered from a disease that still too little is known about.

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November/December 2016 Volume 14 * Issue 6
SKINmed. 2016;14:480 480 © 2016 Pulse Marketing & Communications, LLC
What a fascinating collection of biographical essays of famous syphilitics! (Mroczkowski, T. F., History, Sex and Syphilis: Famous Syphilitics and their Private Lives. Bradenton, FL, BookLocker.com; 2015: 499p. Kindle $7.99, paperback $28.95, hardcover $39.95.) Details are given about the many members of royal households, musical composers, writers, and artists who were afflicted by this treponemal disease, often euphemistically called lues (Latin for the plague). There were other names given to the great imitator, including the French pox, the Neapolitan disease, the big pox, and the disease from Española. Fortuitously, this work does not dwell on whether syphilis was brought by Columbus' men from the New World or represented the reemergence of an European disease at the end of the 15th century. Such discussions can be found in other sources.
1,2 FAMOUS SYPHILITICS
With an estimated 20% of the population of Paris having syphilis in the late 19th century, it is no wonder that many impressionist painters suffered with the disease. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) had tertiary syphilis, as did Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), but whether their strange behaviors, as recounted in the book, were entirely attributable to syphilis is open to conjecture. In the case of several poets, Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) seems to have died of an aortic aneurysm due to tertiary syphilis. With Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), if his death was not due to syphilis, the infection contributed to his eye problems; he had neurosyphilis and cardiovascular syphilis. Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) most likely had a gumma of the inner ear. How much syphilis interfered with the lives of such men will never be known, as most led dissolute lives. Excessive drinking, with consumption of large amounts of absinthe, and the use of laudanum and other habituating drugs to alleviate real and imaginary pain, may, as the author points out, have contributed to the bizarre behavior of many and probably to their eventual demise. These men were usually sexually promiscuous, having innumerable partners, if the accounts of the day are accurate. Whether they also suffered from gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases is unknown, but imagine the various treatments, often ineffective, to which they were subjected: mercury ingestion to the point of losing teeth, potassium iodide by mouth, cold water immersion, spa hydrotherapy, and traction treatment.
RECOMMENDATION
The highly recommended book provides an insight into how syphilis affected so many lives during its 500 plus years of ravaging not only the sexually promiscuous, but also the innocent victims, be they marital partners or the children with congenital disease-syphilis of the innocent. The author, a syphilologist of note, has written extensively on sexually transmitted disease and has been on the professorial faculty of both New Orleans medical institutions, Tulane University and Louisiana State University. Further details and illustrations can be found at: historysexandsyphilis.com.
Book Review
Jennifer L. Parish, MD, Section Editor
History, Sex and Syphilis
Lawrence Charles Parish, MD, MD (Hon)
Reviewed by Lawrence Charles Parish, MD, MD (Hon), Clinical Professor of Dermatology and Cutaneous Biology, Sidney
Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia PA * 1845 Walnut Street, Suite 1650, Philadelphia, PA
19103 * E-mail: larryderm@yahoo.com
References
1 Holcomb RC. Who Gave the World Syphilis? The Haitian Myth. New York, NY: Froben Press; 1937.
2 Dennie CC. A History of Syphilis. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1962.

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