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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Spanish Fleas
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0659  Monday, 12 April 1999.

[1]     From:   David Carnegie <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Apr 1999 10:38:45 +1200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0656 Q: Spanish Fleas

[2]     From:   Catherine Loomis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 11 Apr 1999 19:14:13 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0656 Q: Spanish Fleas

[3]     From:   Tom Reedy <
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        Date:   Sunday, 11 Apr 1999 23:22:15 -0500
        Subj:   Spanish Fleas


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Carnegie <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Apr 1999 10:38:45 +1200
Subject: 10.0656 Q: Spanish Fleas
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0656 Q: Spanish Fleas

The OED lists several examples of the Spanish disease as equivalent to
the French disease (i.e. pox). In the same manner, French fly (in, e.g.,
Webster and Heywood's Appius and Virginia) refers to Cantharis
vesicatoria, usually called 'Spanish fly', a poisonous beetle, source of
cantharides, a drug used for raising blisters. Cf. Topsell, Historie of
Serpents (1607-8), p. 97: 'Their vertue and quality is to rayse
blisters'.

Associate Professor David Carnegie
School of English, Film & Theatre
Victoria University of Wellington

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Catherine Loomis <
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Date:           Sunday, 11 Apr 1999 19:14:13 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 10.0656 Q: Spanish Fleas
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0656 Q: Spanish Fleas

>I am under the impression that the "French disease" is syphilis.  What
>exactly is the "Spanish disease?"  What are "Spanish fleas?"

Nobody wants to take credit for syphilis.  Claude Quetel, in *History of
Syphilis* (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins UP, 1990) has this to say:

"Each newly affected country lost no time naming the new disease after
the neighbour which is suspected, usually with good reason, of having
been the source of contamination.  The following gives an idea of the
variety of names:  the Muscovites referred to it as the Polish sickness,
the Poles as the German sickness, and the Germans as the French
sickness-a term which the English also approved (French pox) as did the
Italians (which presented certain difficulties).  The Flemish and Dutch
called it 'the Spanish sickness' as did the inhabitants of North-west
Africa.  The Portuguese called it 'the Castillian sickness', whilst the
Japanese and the peoples of the East Indies came to call it 'the
Portuguese sickness'.  Only the Spanish, oddly enough, did not call it
anything."  (16)

Although Quetel asserts the Spanish did not call it anything, Anton
Luger in "The Origin of Syphilis" (in the March-April 1993 issue of the
journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases) cites Rodrigo Ruy Diaz de Isla's
1542 book "against the serpentine disease which came from the Island
Espaniola;" Luger notes the book may have been written c. 1521.  Quetel
findss many other "blame your neighbor" sort of names, except among the
Scots who called it "Grandgor."  In Ghent and Leyden, it was called
"spaansche pokken" (Quetel, 43).

If you're reading up on this topic, you may want to see William Ober's
"To Cast a Pox:  The Inconography of Syphilis" in The American Journal
of Dermapathology 11 (1) 1989, pp. 74-86; in many of the early modern
illustrations Ober analyzes, the syphilitic lesions look like fleas.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Reedy <
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Date:           Sunday, 11 Apr 1999 23:22:15 -0500
Subject:        Spanish Fleas

>Perhaps someone on SHAKSPER can help me with a definition.  I have come
>across a reference to the "Spanish sickness" and "Spanish fleas"
>(1596).  Apparently the disease is erroneously referred to as the
>"French disease." I am under the impression that the "French disease" is
>syphilis.  What exactly is the "Spanish disease?"  What are "Spanish
>fleas?"  Any info would be greatly appreciated.  Respond to my e-address
>above unless you feel the topic is of interest to the whole list.
>
>Thanks in advance,
>Scott Oldenburg

Spain is where syphilis first came to Europe, brought over by Columbus's
sailors, consequently it was first known as the "Spanish disease."  I
don't know what "Spanish fleas" are.  The French called syphilis the
"English disease," and the English called it the "French disease."

Shakespeare's references to syphilis are anachronistic, as are his
references to tobacco, pistols, clocks, spectacles, etc.

Tom Reedy
 

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