From the Vault: Syphilis


An electron photomicrograph of two spiral shaped treponema pallidum bacteria. BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Doctors have called it the great imitator because this destructive venereal disease can manifest almost any symptom. Initially spreading through sexual contact, Syphilis can remain dormant in the body for decades before flaring up again in brutally disfiguring, debilitating and deadly ways. It's difficult to overstate the impact of syphilis on the Western world, and it remains a threat to this day despite effective antibiotic treatments. In this classic episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert Lamb and Julie Douglas explore the history of the illness and its cultural effects, from powdered wigs and false noses to surgical advances and vampire myths. (Originally published August 26-28, 2014)

Related Content:

Artificial Noses and the Ravages of Syphilis

Anti-Syphilis Posters and the Monstrous Feminine

Tertiary Syphilis Invades your Television

Monster of the Week: The Syphilitic Vampire

Artatomical: Rembrandt's Portrait of de Lairesse

The Dangers of Lust and Illicit Love, 16th century. Alcohol aids seduction in the center, while the embodiment of death, corruption and syphilis brandishes an hourglass on the left while eying a pair of lovers. After a symbolic woodcut by Peter Flötner.
The Dangers of Lust and Illicit Love, 16th century. Alcohol aids seduction in the center, while the embodiment of death, corruption and syphilis brandishes an hourglass on the left while eying a pair of lovers. After a symbolic woodcut by Peter Flötner.
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Topics in this Podcast: Syphilis, biology, disease, sex, death, history