31 January 2008

We Share 92 Diseases With Cows

Or so I learned this evening at a talk on diseases and plagues in Antiquity, where the speaker mused that the domestication of animals was almost certainly the greatest error in human history.

Our speaker speculated on the contribution of the Antonine Plague -- whatever its cause -- to the decline of the Roman Empire in the west and of the Justinian Plague to the decline on the Byzantine Empire and the Rise of Islam. The last point was particularly intriguing, essentially coming down to a simple proposition: a huge plague, perhaps a precursor of the Black Death of the Fourteenth Century, devastated the Byzantine and Persian empires in the sixth centuries; the nomads of the Arabian peninsula were largely preserved from this plague by their lifestyle, ensuring them of a numerical superiority when the Muslim fire caught hold a hundred years later.

Along the way there was a passing mention of eleven popes having died of syphilis. No, I have no idea who they were, though I'm inclined to doubt the figure; having done a cursory trawl online, I've turned up only three popes thought to have died of said disease. It seems entirely plausible that Alexander VI and Julius II indeed died of syphilis, but Clement III died in 1191, more than three hundred years before the disease is thought to have reached Europe from the New World.

There have been only 51 Papal deaths in the last five hundred years, and I can't help but find it unlikely that syphilis claimed the lives of more than a fifth of Peter's successors in that time.

Granted, there are people who argue that syphilis didn't originate in the New World, but tonight's speaker clearly took the traditional view, so presumably wouldn't count Clement III among his eleven. Hmmm.

I may have to ask him directly. Time to hunt for his e-mail address, methinks.

1 comment:

Cuitlamiztli Carter said...

Heck, I lean toward Zerzan's primitivism when I'm in a bad mood, but I think the benefits of agriculture and animal husbandry far outweigh the diseases we caught.