21 February 2011

The Pale Elephant

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death

I’ve been reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s set in Germany during the second world war, and is narrated by Death. There’s quite a lot about the power of words, and about Jews. My memory needed refreshing, and I turned to Pox by Deborah Hayden, as one does.
This is about what we might call today a pale elephant in the room, the sometimes recognised and often overlooked or painted-out pale intruder into the lives of the famous. An american elephant, certainly over-sexed and over here.
She makes a good case for Hitler being so afflicted, and indicates a possible origin from a Jewess in his youth. There is even a chapter about the elephant in Mein Kampf, not that I’ve read it. This hypothesis would certainly go far to explain the Holocaust as the product of a deranged mind — there are references to forced marches in The Book Thief. Hitler having a dermatologist as his personal physician is otherwise a curious choice, given that german dermatologists were experts in the diagnosis of skin rashes, and used this knowledge in the treatment of the ‘specific’ disease in which they also specialised.
The name of the pale elephant? It is Treponema pallidum, the pale spirochete. It gives you the Great Pox. While there was once the idea that those of an artistic temperament whose exposure to it was an essential part of their personal development would benefit from creativity in middle age, this happy idea is known now to be wrong.
It’s syphilis.

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