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Smallpox Enters the New World Without Blankets *

The flu raged though Hispaniola in 1493 but something much worse has reached the New World. Small pox is regularly killing by the hundreds of thousands in Europe in the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s. People who contract this disease are covered in ugly bumps and these bumps might form over the cornea of the eye, causing about a third of all blindness. Chance of death is 25% for adults to 80% for children who contract it. What it does to the New World is devastating. Small pox will quickly move to Mexico, then down Central America to South America. It is called "the pox" at this time, but it will soon be called small pox to distinguish it from the "great pox", syphilis, which is a more virulent form of the modern disease of the same name. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I heard that Europeans handed out blankets filled with small pox disease as a means to kill off unwitting Indians. In reality this was a suggestion made in 1763 before the USA was formed and over 200 years after the disease was introduced to the New World. Exposing people to ground small pox scabs in a controlled fashion is called "inoculation". It was the primary way to help at that time. The fact that it helped 2% of those exposed into the grave was an improvement over the 25% death rate the population was experiencing before. It seems ridiculous to think that Indians would be unwitting dupes. They had been experiencing small pox over 200 years by that point.[3] [4]

Strasbourg Dance Mania and LSD

Frau Troffea of the city of Strasbourg jumps up and begins dancing. Her dancing continues for days until she falls into a heap. Thus begins the Dancing Plague of 1518. The number of dancers jumps by tens to hundreds within a few weeks, oddly enough, to the accompaniment of musicians! It is called Saint Vitus' Dance. It's not exactly a disease. Some think it is a form of mass hysteria. It may well be a reaction to LSD, an hallucinogenic by-product of a fungus infecting the rye crop. People have been suffering from outbreaks like this for centuries and these outbreaks will continue into the modern day. It doesn't happen often but when it does, it is strange, and often tragic as people dance themselves to death. [5] [6] [7]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Historians don't really know what caused this outbreak of dancing. Hysteria could explain it to a point, but once people starting breaking ribs and dropping dead from heart attacks (which really happened) it seems likely that would break the trance. An LSD hallucinogenic reaction to fungus seems more likely and there are examples of this happening in modern times where "ergot poisoning" was proven to be the culprit.[8] [9]

Nothing Focuses the Mind Like an Impending Ottoman Invasion

The Ottoman Empire has been pushing steadily toward the heart of Europe and the Europeans have finally noticed. The major leaders of Europe or their ambassadors have met in London to sign a mutual defense agreement. The Treaty of London will commit the various nations of Europe (except Turkey) to come to defense of each other and each nation agrees not to attack the other Treaty members. The Treaty will last only a few years before fighting amongst themselves breaks out, but the Treaty begins a process that will be revisited time and again as danger looms from the Ottomans. [10]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Of course the Europeans noticed the Ottoman encroachment before this time but they weren't thinking as a unified whole. Europe as a unified group of nations is not a fully formed idea at this time. This treaty will help that process along. The Treaty reminds me of that Samuel Johnson quote: "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." [11]

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1518, Wikipedia.

See Also


* The asterisk in the section header indicates that it was read on the podcast.
  1. "Chapter 1: Two Monuments", 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (BOOK), Knopf. ISBN 9780307265722. “Smallpox entered, terribly, in 1518; it spread to Mexico, swept down Central America, and then continued into Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Following it came the rest, a pathogenic cavalcade.” 
  2. Smallpox - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 February 2015. “The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans annually during the closing years of the 18th century (including five reigning monarchs), and was responsible for a third of all blindness. Of all those infected, 20–60 percent — and over 80 percent of infected children — died from the disease.”
  3. virulent - definition of virulent. The Free Dictionary (2015). Retrieved on 11 February 2015. “Characterized by, causing, or promoting the rapid onset of severe illness.”
  4. Native American disease and epidemics - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 February 2015. “There is scholarly dissent to the theory that the outbreaks of smallpox may have been by the intentional spreading of disease, for example the allegations of smallpox-infested blankets being intentionally given to Native Americans in 1763 at the Siege of Fort Pitt.”
  5. Dancing Plague of 1518 - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 10 February 2015. “Numerous people took to dancing for days without rest, and, over the period of about one month, some of those affected died of heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion.”
  6. Dancing mania - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 10 February 2015.
  7. Strasbourg: History - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 10 February 2015.
  8. Ergot - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 11 February 2015.
  9. St. Anthony's Fire -- Ergotism - Heart Center: Information on Cardiovascular Conditions. MedicineNet.com (2015). Retrieved on 11 February 2015. “On 15 August 1951 one in twenty of the 4000 inhabitants of another village in France called Pont Saint Esprit (Bridge of the Holy Spirit) went mad. They had hallucinations, writhed in agony in their beds, vomited, ran crazily in the streets and suffered terrible burning sensations in their limbs.”
  10. Treaty of London (1518) - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 10 February 2015. “It was a response to the rising power of the Ottoman empire which was encroaching into the Balkans. Wolsey was very keen on making lasting peace and persuaded Henry to avoid war and take a more diplomatic route in financial affairs.”
  11. Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.. QuoteYard.com (September 19, 1777). Retrieved on 11 February 2015. “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

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