Monday, July 19, 2010

More of that Scrofula

I am sure it was a terrible disease and I should not be so amused at references to it in novels but I cannot help myself. In Robert Harris' novel Lustrum, the tribune Publius Vatinius was called the ugliest man in Rome. "He had contracted scrofula as a boy, and his face and neck were covered in pendulous purplish-blue lumps." (pg 360) After looking at Cicero's correspondance to Atticus about Vatinius, I have to say that Harris chose scrofula as his disfigurement because Vatinius had some mark and malformed legs that prevented him from being chosen as an auger but scrofula is not mentioned by anyone. Not Tacitus, or Pliny, Caesar, Livy, Plutarch, Dio Cassus or anyone else who mentions Vatinius' name. However, while looking, I had a nice long look at the Perseus site which,
"The Perseus Project at Tufts University is the foremost Digital Library for the classical world, if not for the Humanities in general. In its collection of Greek and Roman materials, readers will find many of the canonical texts read today. The Greek collection approaches 8 million words and the Latin collection currently has 5.5 million. In addition, many English language dictionaries, other reference works, translations, and commentaries are included, so that anyone with an internet connection has access to the equivalent of a respectable College Classics library. The Perseus site is further enriched by intricate linking mechanisms among texts (resulting in more than 30 million links)."

It is a very good site for looking up references.


Kristin said...

Not to be a bushy haired know it all, but scrofula is tuberculosis of the neck or more specifically an infection of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by TB. It causes those purple blue things the author mentions. Removing the mass doesn't do any good--it regrows and usually spreads the infection to the rest of the body.

Anachronist said...

You must admit that scrofula did sound more dramatic than malformed legs.

Kristin said...

Yeah, it sounds like "acromantula" or something. LOL

Tracy said...

It does sound horrible! But then so is TB on it's own. Since TB has been making something of a comeback in recent years, unfortunately, and it's often the antibiotic-resistant version too, does that mean scrofula is becoming more prevalent again?

The Perseus site looks good.

The Red Witch said...

@Not to be a bushy haired know it all

LOL That is a new one to me. I knew scrofula was a lesion on the neck produced by tuberculosis but whatever blemish Vatinius had was described in translation as a 'wen'. I might have to chase down the original latin to see what word was used.
I was thinking that Vatinius sounded like he had rickets growing up and they would not have know what rickets was back then. Let's hope that Scrofula is not on its way back. I wonder if William, when he becomes king, would be willing to 'heal' people. I might line up for that.

Anachronist said...

Let's hope that Scrofula is not on its way back. I wonder if William, when he becomes king, would be willing to 'heal' people. I might line up for that.

I doubt William will be so romantic.

Kristin said...

Funny how these traditions hang on even now: that the touch of a king is the touch of a healer. We see it everywhere from paganism to Christianity to the Arthurian legends. That one is really ancient. Shakespeare alludes to it in Macbeth when the doctor refers to Edward the Confessor, and scofula used to be called "king's evil" and could be cured by the king's touch.

[...]a crowd of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great essay of art; but at his touch,
Such sanctity hath Heaven given his hand,
They presently amend [...]

And Malcolm says:

[...]'tis spoken
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction.

According to Roger of Saldeno, scorfula could be cured by using scelerat mixed with pig dung. I think scelerat is cursed buttercup but I'm not positive.

The Red Witch said...

Pliny has some interesting cures of which weasel blood is one of the milder ones. He does propose (and I need to find the original latin text to see what word he used) in English translation that opening up the swellings are helpful for scrofula. So you know something is wrong there.