Painters, composers and genocidal maniacs – it takes all sorts to die of syphilis! In fact, about 15% of the earth’s population in the 19th century contracted the dreaded venereal disease at some point in their lives.
These days a positive STD test would lead to treatment for this curable disease but for many who contracted the disease in those days it could prove deadly. Here are the ten most famous historical characters suspected to have suffered from the sexually transmitted disease.
10 – Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin, known as the ‘King of Ragtime’, wrote the famous piece of music ‘The Entertainer’. However, Joplin’s final hours would have been far from entertaining – he died in a mental institution suffering from the physical and mental influences of syphilis.
9 – Casanova
Casanova used a condom made out of sheep’s gut and tied on with a tasteful pink ribbon. However, the sexually prolific Venetian adventurer and author wasn’t as careful as he could have been and, as a result, suffered frequent bouts of venereal diseases including syphilis.
8 – Tolstoy
The Russian literary giant, author of ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ Leo Tolstoy suffered from syphilis during his youth, which was cured using arsenic treatment. In his novels, Tolstoy vividly examined the relationship between life and death.
7 – Ivan the Terrible
Ivan’s sexual promiscuity with both sexes, his last illness and many features of his personality support a diagnosis of syphilis. It was often ‘treated’ with mercury and he died of mercury poisoning. However, it cannot be determined if Ivan’s terrible problems were physical or psychological, and with anonymous STD testing yet to be invented in Ivan’s era we may never find out the truth.
6 – Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche was a nineteenth-century German philosopher and philologist who had a major influence on philosophy, particularly in existentialism and postmodernism. A popular, though hotly disputed, story about Nietzsche is that he went insane after being infected with syphilis.
5 – Mussolini
Benito Mussolini exploited a grenade wound in the First World War to cover up syphilis, according to research which would explain the Italian dictator’s uncharacteristic refusal to boast about his heroism at the front. The syphilis theory fits with rumours which circulated in Italy during his rule – and his chronic gastric problems, a symptom of the sexually transmitted disease.
4 – Henry VIII
The gradual mental deterioration and paranoia which Henry VIII developed as he grew older was possibly the result of late stage syphilis. However, This well known theory was probably first promoted about 100 years after his death.
Whether Beethoven actually had syphilis has been debated for decades. Since anonymous STD testing was not available at that time we probably won’t find out. However, the composer was known to associate with prostitutes, and propagators of the theory often claim that the disease is what caused him to become deaf.
2 – Hitler
Adolf Hitler’s tremors and irregular heartbeat during the last years of his life could have been symptoms of late stage syphilis, which would mean he had had the sexually transmitted disease for many years. His many symptoms included encephalitis, dizziness, neck pustules, chest pain, an accentuated heartbeat and frequent paranoid rages.
1 – Shakespeare
After a close examination of William Shakespeare’s writings, the Infectious Diseases Society of America published an article suggesting that Shakespeare most probably had syphilis, and that his sickness could possibly explain several events in his later years.