Few illnesses in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries carried the impact of the dreaded “pox,” a lethal sexually transmitted disease usually thought to be syphilis. Often believed to have arisen in Europe during the 1490s, by the early sixteenth century the disease quickly emerged as a powerful cultural force. Just as powerful were the responses to this new disease by doctors, bureaucrats, moralists, playwrights, and satirists. These responses mark the subject of this collection. The ten essays in this volume seek to gauge the impact of sexual disease on early modern society by exploring the rich variety of ways in which European culture reacted to the presence of a new deadly sexual infection. Articles about Europe’s Scientific and Medical Responses analyze how physicians incorporated the disease within existing intellectual frameworks and chart the array of medical practitioners who took up the fight against it. Studies of Literary and Metaphoric Responses examine how early modern writers put images of sexual infection and the diseased body to a range of rhetorical uses and political purposes. Finally, essays about Institutional and Policing Responses chronicle how city authorities responded to the crisis of the disease in their streets and how these public health responses linked up with wider campaigns to police sexuality. Sins of the Flesh brings together an international collection of researchers to offer new insights about medicine, sexuality, institutionalization, gender, nation, and representation in the early modern world.
“The collection employs a variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches to explore how “the pox” was interpreted and understood within different national and social contexts throughout early modern Europe... The disease as a cultural construct, not as a measurable/objective ailment, presents an intriguing promise for future study within other national context.”
- Erik Lizee, University of Alberta (from Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, 25:1; Spring 2008, pp. 279-280.)
Kevin Siena is assistant professor of history at Trent University. He is the author of Venereal Disease, Hospitals and the Urban Poor: London’s “Foul Wards” 1600–1800 (2004).
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