Die Welt has a quick look at the effects that syphilis has had on the cultural history of Europe, even though few named the disease that afflicted them. The thrust of the article (I only did a little work to repair the poor translation of this Googl-English) is that many artistic works are preoccupied with disease that resembles syphilis, and that the burst of creativity that may have surrounded it resemble that which surrounds AIDS.

The history of the Syphilis in Europe can be read like the medical history of a continent. It began with an enterprising gentleman portion in the Caribbean with Columbus, and like centuries later with AIDS also their rapid propagation was connected with the growth of international traffic.

Just brought to Europe, the epidemic spread quickly. As a result of the war course of the French king of Charles VIII against Naples Syphilis became the new scourge of Europe. It affected soldiers and prostitutes just like students, urban notables, wives and children.

And it affected artists again and again, working its way into their biographies and works or has been interpreted as being an influence on their work by future generations. With Casanova, Franz Schubert, Charles Baudelaire and Karen Blixen the diagnosis is certain — with Mozart, Beethoven, Heine, Chopin, Toulouse Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Guy de Maupassant, Edgar Allan Poe and Nietz are suspected today because of their lingering illnesses, profound suffering, and their sudden deaths. The question, whether Beethoven did not die at a lead poisoning, Mozart not at kidney failure and Poe by different causes, hardly undermines such speculations. …

Was thrust Schuman’s D minor quartet “Der Tod und das Mädchen” not also a welcome greeting of the relief of all suffering? Was Baudelaires poem “The Sick Muse” not also a reverence to the illness as MUSE? And didn’t the author of the “Flowers of Evil” write the medical history of his epoch, which a “people of the demons” raged in brain and lung in its dedication poem the “hypocritical reader”?

A similar creative thrust has come as of late from AIDS, only much openly: in novels, films, musical, Popsongs the illness was deplored, sworn to. Quite art-intimately already was the man, who designated the Syphilis in the year 1530 in a Latin written training poem.

The Italian physician and Humanist Girolamo Fracastoro described therein not only those “mean ulcers”, which ate the body of the victims, but charged to their spreading also the “Galles”, thus Frenchmen and their “frightenful war” from 1495. Not only in the Italian vernacular the new and devastating evil was therefore called as “French mange” and “Frenchman illness”, what suggests that Syphilis was regarded particularly as illness of the others. Likewise like AIDS: One saw it above all,that someone else was responsible.

Link: famous men who died from syphilis.