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September 20, 2010

Syphilis in Greek Poetry: A Uniquely Positive Perspective

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Copyright 2011 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2011

Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(1):28. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2010.388

In Greek literature, poets, whether syphilitic or not, referred to syphilis with a uniquely positive social perspective. In 1925, Kostas Karyotakis, a syphilitic and a dismal, satirical poet, wrote Song of Insanity, which was later renamed Ochra Spirochaete (also known as Treponema pallidum).1 When it was published in Hesperus magazine, the last stanza said: “ She was so beautiful, our bought girlfriend,/through the twilight of that remote winter/when she gave us her lips, with an enigmatic smile,/and foresaw the potential future, the upcoming abyss.1 These verses speak expressively about syphilis, especially with the words “bought girlfriend,” as prostitutes were considered the major cause of syphilis' transmission; “enigmatic smile,” as a smiling face hid the disease; and “abyss,” as abyss represented the dark prognosis of syphilis.2

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