Monday, April 11, 2011
Received wisdom has always said that the New World provided Europe with potatoes, tomatoes. tobacco and syphilis. I wrote a treatise on syphilis as part of a graduate studies programme at UBC refuting the idea that syphilis originated in the New World. At the time I was taking an Archeology minor on the way to an Anatomy degree. Ancient Corinth, a coastal city, was from the evidence of excavations at the time, the major Mediterranean port into the heart of Europe. From excavations of the healing Temples of Asklepius, one of the more interesting findings were what were called the votive offerings. These were pottery replica of the anatomical part of the patient that the priests of Asklepius had healed.They were accompanied by testimonials and hung on the walls of the temple. The votives could be purchased off the shelf at an adjacent Stoa and given to the priests by the grateful, or if you were rich you could commission a custom made part by an artisan. Curiously enough, many of these replica were male genitalia. Problematic for the student in these matters was that the nature of the disease was not displayed in the replicas so the pathology was unclear. The Asklepians it seems, insisted that only disease free specimens were to be hung on the sacred walls. My treatise advanced the idea that the prevalence of genitalia was evidence of syphilis in the Old World since the primary chancre would ordinarily disappear in time and secondary syphilis, that would appear much later, would not be connected. Since archeologists don't know anything about syphilis this treatise was accepted. That was 1962 and I was 28. As wisdom gradually seeped into my being, connected with age, I now and have for some time realized it was impotence that the priests were curing! Adjacent to the healing temple was the Temple of Aphrodite. Aphrodite was the Goddess of Love and the patroness of prostitutes. Teamwork counts! No wonder St. Paul was so exercised at the Corinthians!