syph·i·lis (sĭf’ə-lĭs)
n. An infectious disease caused by a spirochete (Treponema pallidum),usually transmitted sexually or in utero, marked initially by local formation of chancres and progressing if untreated to bacteremia and widespread organ damage, such as skin ulcerations and tabes dorsalis.
[New Latin, from Syphilis, sive Morbus Gallicus, "Syphilis, or the French Disease," title of a poem by Girolamo Fracastoro (1478?-1553), from Syphilus, the poem's protagonist.]
Word History: When syphilis began to ravage Europe in the late 1400s, it was described with such terms as the "Neapolitan disease," "Spanish disease," and "French disease," according to national prejudices of the person discussing the illness. In 1530, the Veronese physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro offered Europeans a mythological scapegoat in his long Latin poem Syphilis, sive Morbus Gallicus ("Syphilis, or the French Disease.") In the poem's opening section, Fracastoro argues that the disease was introduced to Europe by the French, but he also adds at the end of the poem two mythological tales written in the style of the Roman poet Ovid and giving supernatural accounts of its origin and supposed cures. In one of these tales, Spanish sailors who have landed in the Americas become infected with syphilis after killing Apollo's sacred parrots. In the other tale, a group of natives tell the sailors the story of a shepherd, Syphilus, who had seen his flock suffering from heat and thirst and cursed the sun god Apollo. The god then afflicted Syphilus with sores, and the scourge spread from him throughout the land. The people of the shepherd's country began to call the disease syphilis, a word formed in Latin from the shepherd's name Syphilus. Eventually, it was decided that the only way to end the plague was to sacrifice Syphilus to Apollo, but Juno interceded, had Syphilus spared, and gave the people a cure, the guaiacum tree. The source of the shepherd's name Syphilus itself is not known, but it has been suggested that Fracastoro adapted it from Ovid's Metamorphoses. In this work, Sipylus is one of the sons of Niobe, a noble woman of Asia Minor who boasted that she was more worthy of honor than the goddess Leto, mother of Artemis and Apollo. Leto had borne only two children, said Niobe, while she herself had fourteen fine sons and daughters. To punish the insult, Artemis and Apollo slew Niobe's children, and Niobe was transformed into a rock on a mountain also called Sipylus, located near the modern city of Izmir, Turkey. (Perhaps Fracastoro intended the name Syphilus to evoke associations with the wrath of Apollo, whose arrows caused plagues.) Eventually, Fracastoro came to recognize that guaiacum was not an effective cure for the "French disease," but he continued to use syphilis as a name for it in De Contagione, ("On Contagion"), an influential work in which he proposed that disease spreads by the transfer of minute disease-causing particles, either directly or by sharing contaminated objects—an important step in the development of the modern germ theory of disease.

Word Histories. 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Syphilis — Classification et ressources externes Le tréponème pâle, agent de la syphilis CIM 10 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Syphilis — Sf (Geschlechtskrankheit) erw. fach. (18. Jh.) Onomastische Bildung. Nach dem Titel eines lateinischen Lehrgedichts des 16. Jhs., in dem die Geschichte des geschlechtskranken Hirten Syphilus erzählt wird. Der Hirt ist vom Sonnengott abgefallen,… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • syphilis — 1718, Mod.L., originally from the title of a poem, Syphilis, sive Morbus Gallicus Syphilis, or the French Disease, 1530, by Veronese doctor Girolamo Fracastoro (1483 1553), which tells the tale of the shepherd Syphilus, supposed to be the first… …   Etymology dictionary

  • syphilis — [sif′ə lis] n. [ModL < Syphilis sive Morbus Gallicus, lit., Syphilis or the French disease, title of a poem (1530) by Girolamo Fracastoro: after the hero Syphilus, a shepherd] an infectious venereal disease caused by a spirochete (Treponema… …   English World dictionary

  • Syphilis — Syph i*lis, n. [NL., fr. Syphilus, the name of a shepherd in the Latin poem of Fracastoro, Syphilus, sive Morbus Gallicus, which was published in 1530; Gr. ? hog, swine + ? dear, loving. The term was introduced into nosology by Sauvages.] (Med.)… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Syphĭlis — (Morbus venereus, Lues venerea, Lustseuche), eine durch Übertragung eines eigenthümlichen Contagiums auf einen gesunden Menschen entstehende, Anfangs örtliche , später nach dem Übergänge des Krankheitsgiftes in die Säftemasse des Körpers… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Syphĭlis — (griech., Lustseuche, Venerie, Franzosenkrankheit, lat. Luës, vgl. Morbus und Mal), ansteckende Krankheit, die vorwiegend durch geschlechtlichen Verkehr übertragen wird und nicht allein örtliche, auf die Stelle der Ansteckung beschränkte… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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  • Syphilis — Syphilis, Lustseuche, venerische Seuche, ist eine durch Ansteckung mittelst des in der Regel unter der Form von Eiter od. Jauche sichtbaren, in den Kreislauf gebrachten Giftes entstehende Krankheit, die sich zunächst an dem Orte, der Infection,… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • syphilis — SYPHILIS: Plus ou moins, tout le monde en est affecté …   Dictionnaire des idées reçues

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