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Introduced into Europe in the mid-1490s, the disease called morbus gallicus typically has been explained by medical historians through use of the term “syphilis.” The question whether the mal de Naples, Franzosenkrankheit, or the French pox existed in Europe before that time, or whether this disease was imported from the New World, has been vehemently debated by medical historians for decades. There can be no doubt, however, regarding the tremendous impact that syphilis has had on social and public life since the late fifteenth century.
In the summer of 1496, morbus gallicus appeared in numerous German cities. Whether “old” or “new,” this contagious disease was recognized as a special entity for which a novel term had to be coined. So horrible were its terrors that it was vital for sufferers and healers alike to define and describe it, thereby confronting the unknown and rendering the strange familiar. Medical experts and lay persons everywhere were engaged in a “disease hunt.” In the beginning the profile of this illness often perplexed both physicians and lay persons, as we learn from a late-fifteenth-century German chronicler who recorded some of the clinical details of the “strange” disease:
In the year 1496, there began an unheard-of disease in many nations and among both sexes. The medical people and physicians were unable to find it in the books of their faculties. The disease was worst at night, when the boils from it tortured patients mercilessly. Horned ulcers and various boils came forth deforming the entire body, which even when they were treated with a poultice or salve became worse. Medical people could not cure it and theologians called it a just punishment for people's sins and perversities.
A major interdisciplinary study of the development of prisons, hospitals and insane asylums in America and Europe, this book resulted from discussions between its two editors about their work on the history of hospitals, poor relief, deviance, and crime, and a subsequent conference held in 1992 by the German Historical Institute that attempted to assess the impacts of Foucault and Elias. Seventeen contributors from six different countries with backgrounds in history, sociology and criminology utilize various methodological approaches and reflect the various viewpoints in the theoretical debate over Foucault's work.
When Jews still lived in a closed Jewish quarter and had to seek the protection of the holders of political power, every encounter between Jews and Gentiles had its well-defined aim. According to Jacob Katz, the “transaction of business, the teaching of Jew by Gentile or vice versa, the treatment by doctors of a patient from the other community, are the recurrent patterns of social encounters between Jews and Gentiles.” Although historians have dealt extensively with the medieval Jewish moneylender and the early modern court Jew, they have seldom taken into account the relationship between Jews and non-Jews that was not governed primarily by the immediate purpose of commerce. The few (mostly Jewish) scholars who have taken an interest in the history of Jewish medicine write about great Jewish physicians, their medical works, and their achievements. But historians have left out the most important aspect, namely, that the medical practice of the rank-and-file Jewish physician brought him into close contact with Gentiles of varying social status. The picture of the Jew waiting at home for the Gentile to bring him his urine is certainly a realistic one. But the details of this picture are blurred, because of the lack of sources.