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September/October 2008 · Historically Speaking 31 away; one buttock virtually withered away. The pain in his left shoulder was so great that he could not raise his arm, and both shoulders were withered. There was a constant voiding sore below his ribs on the right side, and a constant stream from the top of his head, running down his back. If you touched the place where this filthy stream began, it felt as though the skull was fractured. Von Hurten recovered because (he believed) he used the new cure of guaiacum wood. Von Hütten started his treatise with the words, "It hath pleased almighty God," Visum Deo est, "that in our time sicknesses should arise which were unknown to our forefathers." This view was shared by medical men. The court physician in Ferrara, Corradino Gilino, wrote in 1499, "We also see that the Supreme Creator, now full of wrath with us for our terrible sins, punishes us with this cruellest of ills which has now spread not only through Italy but across almost the whole of Christendom. Everywhere is the sound of trumpets; everywhere the noise of arms is heard .... Let us say, with the Prophet in the sixth psalm, 'Lord, do not censure me in your anger nor in your wrath afflict us.' This I believe is the cause of this savage plague." Some theologians claimed the sin in question being duly punished by God was luxuria: "seeing that the guilty organ [i.e., the penis] is the organ which suffers, the theologians admire that just and equitable maxim, for a like sin a like penance." The decade of the 1490s was most unfortunate in that it witnessed the appearance of not one but two pandemics: pox and typhus. The latter arose primarily from the new modes of warfare, particularly the widespread use of siege tactics, which pinned down both the besieger and the besieged in frightful conditions. Moreover, "plague" (or diseases that contemporaries called plague) continued to appear every few years, regularly killing its thousands. All these epidemics and pandemics had significant economic—and sometimes political—effects, and these disruptions of society encouraged the view that people were living in the Last Days. * * * Some 350 years later a cholera pandemic struck Europe . This 19th-century pandemic had a significant influence on die thinking of Justus Hecker (17951850 ), a third generation professor of medicine— and soon of the history of medicine—at Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin. When cholera arrived in Europe in 1831, Hecker focused his attention on major epidemics in history. He read medieval and early modern chronicles, rediscovered the great plague of 1348-49 (which had been forgotten ), and named it the "Black Death." He further learned of a dancing mania of the Middle Ages, and the strange disease of the "English sweat" that had broken out in the 16th century and only seems to have affected Englishmen whether at home or abroad. Subsequendy, Hecker worked on die Antonine plague of the 2nd century A.D. On each of these past epidemics Hecker wrote a short book in the early 1830s, which was quickly translated into other languages. Almost single-handedly Hecker had recovered these momentous events of disease history, and he has thus appropriately been styled the originator of historical pathology. But Hecker also saw these epidemics as momentous in the development of human history. For Hecker's interpretation of these epidemics was peculiar. He regarded them as cosmic in origin, and caused by Providence (though not sent as divine punishments ). He saw them as occurring in vast cycles, and their effect was to "renovate" nature. He believed that the story of epidemics, if it could be told, would be allied to the history of the mental development of the human race! In other words, the reaction of human society to disasters such as epidemics could over time improve the moral condition of mankind. So, although Hecker was certainly dealing in terms of historical pathology, it was not in a form that would today be recognized as scientific. The development of laboratory medicine later in the 19th century led to the perception that epidemics are purely natural phenomena, subjects of science rather than eschatology...