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Syphilis erupted in Europe at the end of the C15th. 'Las bubas', or the Great Pox, first emerged in Barcelona, Spain. Because this outbreak coincided with the return of the Christopher Columbus expedition from the New World to Barcelona in 1493, his sailors were blamed for picking it up from the Caribbean Indians. Syphilis was already a widespread disease in Haiti, but its symptomatology was mild amongst the indigenous population.
There is a legend that one of Columbus's sailors shot some beautiful birds which were much beloved of the Sun-God. One of the birds was only wounded and managed to escape and it uttered a dire prophecy:
' Nor end your sufferings here; a strange disease and most obscene shall on your bodies seize'.
Before Columbus left, the natives held a great festival to the Sun-God, but all the guests languished with the same disease. The priest stepped forwards, offering the boughs of guaiacum as a cure.
In 1530, Giralamo Fracastoro, a medical doctor from Verona, Italy wrote a poem about the origin of the Great Pox. It was entitled 'Syphilis sive Morbe Gallicus' (Syphilis or the French Disease). It tells the story of a swine herd, Syphilis. All his animals were dying because of a bad drought. Syphilis swore at the Sun-God and declared he would no longer offer sacrifices to him - but to the king instead. The Sun-God was enraged and sent forth an infection. Syphilis was the first victim - 'He first wore buboes dreadful to the sight , first felt strange pains and sleepless past the night'. The pestilence continued and eventually, after many sacrifices, the Sun-God was appeased and showed the cure to be Guaiacum.