There’s a core debate among historians as to the origins of syphilis, coming down to whether Columbian imperialists contracted it in the Americas and brought it back to Europe, or if it existed, undiagnosed, in various forms throughout the world before that. However, it first spread upon their return in the late 1490s and early 1500s, starting in Naples, Italy, and then spreading swiftly throughout Europe. It was also a sort of hyper-syphilis, much more dangerous than it is currently. As Jared Diamond describes it in the Pulitzer-winning ethnography Guns, Germs, And Steel:
[W]hen syphilis was first definitely recorded in Europe in 1495, its pustules often covered the body from the head to the knees, caused flesh to fall from people’s faces, and led to death within a few months.
It wasn’t called “syphilis” until the poet Girolamo Fracastoro penned “Syphilis Or The French Disease.” As hinted at by that title, up until then, the disease was known by a host of different terms, and pretty much all of them were racist, as a map recently making the rounds on Reddit proves.
Yes, the Portuguese called it the Spanish disease, while the Spanish called it the French disease; the French called it the Italian disease, while the Japanese called it the Portuguese disease. It’s a beautiful rainbow of racist, sexist misconceptions and cultural insecurities, illustrating the very set of misunderstandings and tribalist resentments that leads to massive world wars. From this beautiful kaleidoscope of repressed resentment let us take the evergreen message that our genitals are our own problems, not our neighbors’.
And shout-out to Scotland for just calling it “Grandgore,” which sounds like an unlockable sword in Diablo.