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Abstract In the late days of the fifteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire1 was all unwittingly nearing its end; the bark of State, for long fighting adverse wind and wave, was struggling amidst stormy seas, assailed by tempests from every quarter. The Holy Roman Empire, of which it has been bitterly but truly said that it was not holy, it was not Roman, and it was not an empire, was a living thing for many years after Otto II (Otto the Great), its founder, was crowned in Rome in A.D. 962; it never, indeed, achieved its ideal; but the German King and the Roman Emperor met in one person, who was crowned at Rome, and who was, in effect, selected by the Roman Pontiff. The ideal, half poetry and half theology,2 was that the whole Christian world was one great Empire, over which presided the Pope in ecclesiastical and References 1. No one now ventures to write anything concerning the Holy Roman Empire without consulting the classic work of James (Lord) Bryce. What follows is contained in that work, either expressly or by implication. As is well known, many count the beginning of this so-called Empire from the crowning of the Frank, Charles the Great, better known as Charlemagne, by the Pope in A. D. 800, when he was given the title of Imperator. His successors, the heads of the Holy Roman Empire or German Empire, continued the pretentions until its extinction in 1806. 2. The language of Lord Bryce. 3. The English Statute of 1533, 25 Henry VIII, cap. 22, in the preamble, speaks of the "Titles pretended to the Imperial Crown of" the realm "contrary to the Right Legality of the Succession and Posterity of the lawful Kings and Emperors of this realm," and states that "the Bishop of Rome and See Apostolick... hath presumed in Times past to invest who should please them... in other men's Kingdoms and Dominions, which Thing your... Subjects... do utterly abhor and detest." Then in sec. 7, it is enacted that "the said Imperial Crown... shall be to your Majesty and to your Heirs of your body." 4. Of course, Maximilian was not the original founder of the Hapsburg Line and the Austrian Empire; but it is certain that this would never have had the prominence which it achieved but for Maximilian and his grandson, Charles the Fifth. 5. Fracastorius, Hieronymus: De Contagionibus, Morbisque Contagiosis et eorum Curatione, book 2, chap. 11 . Riddell, W. R.: Fracastorius' Works on Syphilis , Toronto, Canadian Social Hygiene Council, 1928. 6. Riddell, W. R.: The "Cold Plague" of the War of 1812-14 , Lancet 1:512 ( (March 11) ) 1922. 7. Block, Iwan: Der Ursprung der Syphilis , Jena, 1901, p. 297. 8. Olpe was and is a small Prussian town in the Province of Westphalia. 9. Haeser: Handbuch III, p. 239. Neither of these editions of Brant's poem finds a place in the enumeration of the publication of the works of Sebastian (or Titio) Brant in the ponderous four volumes of the Bibliotheca Britannica; and, indeed, it may fairly be said that all other works by Brant are lost sight of in the glory of his inimitable "Ship of Fools." Notwithstanding the apparent neglect of this poem, it is not too much to say that it is of particular importance in the history of medicine, as it contains the earliest extant account of syphilis, or at least one of the earliest. 10. In the Grüninger Quarto of 1498, there are six handsome figures: three of them are half page, representing the poet kneeling, a carriage with two fools and the Emperor Maximilian with a flag. The other three are as in this edition. 11. This mark (/) is a common form of punctuation. Its meaning is not always easy to detect, as it is used for the shortest as well as longer pauses; sometimes, indeed, where one would think any mark improper. 12. The indiscriminate use of the letters "u" and "v," as of "i" and "j," in these early publications is well known. 13. One vowel is often dropped indiscriminately in the diphthongs "oe," "ae," etc. 14. Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522) was one of the wonders of his time in respect to erudition. He sometimes called himself Phorcensis, i. e., a native of Pforzheim (in the Black Forest); while many of his contemporaries, especially in Italy, called him Capnion, after the manner of the learned of the day, who Latinized or Grecized names, making Gerard, Erasmus and Schwartzerd, Melanchthon; so they made Reuchlin (Rauchlin) Capnion, the "smoky one" (from "kapnos," smoke, Greek, "Rauch" being "smoke" in German). Not too much praise is given to his learning and acumen in "lynx-eyes." The reference to the laws of the Empire looks to the establishment about this time of a Court of Appeal for the whole Roman Empire, in which were applied the laws as set out in Justinian's Institutes and Pandects; this Roman law, commonly called the Civil Law, is still the basis of the law of central Europe, just as the English Common Law is the basis of ours. It will be remembered that the clerical element of Parliament tried to introduce into England this Civil Law, but the laity would have none of it; in the Statute of Merton, 1235, 20 Henry III, cap. 8, one reads, "Et omnes Comites & Barones una voce responderunt quod nolunt leges Angliae mutare, que usitate sunt & approbate," i. e., "And all the earls and barons with one voice answered that they would not change the laws of England, which have hitherto been used and approved." 15. Bellona was the Roman goddess of war; war was raging and many were throwing the ball—"luditur." 16. The reference is to Jeremiah 14: 6, "their eyes did fail, because there was no grass." 17. In the old fable, the Frogs were discontented with their King Log, and in punishment were given King Stork, or, as Brant has it, King Ibis, who devoured them and their children. 18. Greece, which lost its freedom and became part of the old Roman Empire when, in B. C. 146, Corinth was taken by the Consul Mummius, never was patient of the Roman yoke, whether before or after the division into Eastern and Western Empires. Becoming part of the Eastern Empire, Greece fell with it into the power of the Turk, "a head and master more severe," between A.D. 1460 and 1473. Unfortunately, she found her new master most "malign," and it was not till the nineteenth century that she succeeded after many struggles in shaking off his yoke. 19. Phorcus, Phorcys or Phorcyn was the "old man of the sea" of Greek folklore. He was the father of the Graeae, the Gorgons and the Hesperides. The Graeae, described as old women, gray from birth, were sometimes taken as representative, and not far from being the alt-mutter of all the "Graioi," Greek folk, the best of whom were inhabitants—so they said, at least—of European Greece. See following note. 20. "Pegasidum," of the Pegasides, the daughters of Pegasus; this name is given by Ovid (Halieuticon, 15, 27) and by Propertius (3, 1, 19) to the Muses, although they were not his children according to the mythology. Some of the medieval and some of the modern writers make more of Pegasus, the winged horse, the stroke of whose hoof brought into existence the famous fountain of Hippocrene, than is at all justified by the ancient story. Ovid in another passage (Tristia, 3, 7, 15) calls the spring of Hippocrene "Pegasides undae." However, there is no difficulty in understanding the poet here—he is simply saying that the European Greeks, the best of the Greek stock, were guardians of the Pierian spring and occupied the land of the Muses. 21. Hippuris is the Greek equivalent of the Latin "equisetum" and the English "horse-tail." Pliny (Naturalis Historiae, book 26, 13, 83 ) gave some interesting information about it, as reliable as much that he tells. Much detested in the meadows, where it interferes with more valuable grasses, it will, when decocted in an earthen vessel down to a third of the vessel's capacity, help the spleen of runners, if half a pint is drunk. Marcellus said that those suffering with the spleen are much benefited by hippuris taken in dry wine or oxymel. Pliny said there was no consensus of opinion about this grass but the juice put up the nose would check nasal hemorrhage, and had the same effect ad alvum; that, moreover, taken in sweet wine, it cured dysentery; that it was uretic, cured cough and dyspnea, checked enterocele, and had the qualities of a blood-styptic, along with other valuable (?) qualities. What is here complained of is the depriving of the horse of his perquisite; a metaphor for the withdrawal of due obedience from rightful rulers. 22. In Rome, the lustrum was generally five years; and remembering that the first anyone heard of syphilis was in 1494, one perceives that it was not far from a lustrum in 1498. That the author could describe this epidemic of syphilis as "the impetigo of the year 96" speaks volumes for the rapidity of its course through Europe. Fracastorius in his prose work (mentioned in the Poem, book 2, chap. 12) said, "It is established that it was seen at the same time, or about the same time, in Spain and France and Italy and Germany and almost all Scythia" (i.e., Russia and Poland); and he thought "it would be impossible in so short a time for a contagion which is so sluggish in its nature and is not readily caught to have traversed so much territory." It must be borne in mind, however, that Fracastorius was ignorant of the primary infection, and looked on the secondary stage as the beginning of the disease; this accounts for his idea that the "contagion" was "sluggish in its nature." In this connection, my edition (footnote 5, p. 11) may be seen. In his poem, book I, Fracastorius told of the rapid progress, or rather simultaneous appearance, of the plague in many lands. 23. Pliny (Naturalis Historiae, book 32, 45), spoke of a kind of wart called "thymion" or "thymium," which is here meant. It may be of interest to note what his ideas were. He wrote: "The liver of the glanus (a kind of shad), used as an ointment, cures warts; or the ash of the head of maenae (a small fish like the smelt eaten by the poor) ground up with leeks. For thymia they use the maenae raw or the gall of the marine scorpion." Here the author is differentiating the pustules from the ordinary wart. 24. The medieval theory of "humors" is well known. There were four humors in the body. If these were in proper proportions, temperies, mixture, temperamentum, all was well. But if any obtained the upper hand, there were intemperies and a "temperament." Sanguis (blood); Pituita or Phlegma, more or less mythical; Chole (bile), and Melanchole (black bile), also mythical, made up the list. One was of the sanguine, the phlegmatic, the bilious or the melancholic temperament according as the one or the other of the humors had the mastery. 25. Now comes what no medieval medical writer could avoid; i.e., the astrologic explanation of diseases. Fracastorius in his prose work (book 2, chap. 12) attributed the outbreak of syphilis to the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, "a conjunction which rarely occurs, and when it does occur, often ushers in great events." Saturn leaving his own house is an astrologic description of that planet coming near to Jupiter. Fracastorius (Syphilidis, etc., book 1) told of "the sinister star of Saturn and the star of Jupiter," as well as of "lovely Venus and fiery Mars," all, of course, with their influence. It is not without interest to note that the far famed and much cursed influenza derived its name from being the supposed product of the influence (Italian, "influenza") of the stars. 26. Chiron was the wisest of the Centaurs, knew all about medicine and taught it to Aesculapius. Even in my time, chronic ulcers were sometimes called chironian or cheironian. Machaon was the son of Aesculapius and as wise as his father. The name Machaon was used generically for physicians. Brant has his mythology mixed here, as was not unusual in his times. 27. "Lepra" is used in so many senses that one can never be sure that one has grasped the meaning of it in any of these old medical writers; and I do not think it useful to give my own guess at what Brant means, if he really means anything. 28. Rhamnusia was Nemesis, who had a celebrated temple at Rhamnuu in Attica, mentioned by Pausanias (i, 33, 2). 29. The enthusiastic author just fails to say "Deutschland über alles."
Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology – American Medical Association
Published: Jul 1, 1929
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