Game of Thrones is primarily a show about clans and families who are involved in a centuries-long struggle for power over a semi-magical fictional kingdom of yore. But it is also a show about having sex with prostitutes. (And everyone else, too, really, including family members. But especially prostitutes.) So, with that in mind, the Washington Post did its journalistic duty yesterday and tracked down a medieval historian who specializes in science, medicine, and technology to ask her the most pressing unanswered question about HBO’s wildly popular drama:
So does everyone just have venereal disease all the time or what?
There are lots and lots and lots of visits to brothels in this show. Were STDs rampant?
In the 15th century there is a lot of discussion of the “French disease,” which is syphilis. Some people called it the French disease. The French didn’t call it the French disease. I think they called it the Italian disease.
Were STDs rampant? I don’t know. [Medieval people] were pretty familiar with . . . a lot of ways male and female . . . sex organs could have problems.
As much I love the fact that this respected historian in the field of medieval medicine is doing what amounts to verbal parkour to avoid giving a straight answer about whether Littlefinger has crabs or whatever, my favorite part of that answer is the thing about Italians and the French trying to pin the blame for syphilis on each other. And my sub-favorite part, right below that last thing, is imagining a world where “the French disease” was still the popular term for it and a group of rabble-rousing patriots pushed to have it changed to “the Freedom disease” in the early 2000s.
But they didn’t have any medicines or cures or ways of attempting to address anything like that.
No, they did, actually. Even going back to the period of antiquity, you do find pharmacologic treatises [as well as medical treatises on gynocological and reproductive health and disease.].
[There were] medical books that are organized in a head-to-toe fashion, so illnesses of the head, eyes . . . neck and then going down to the feet. Or you also have [books] in which different plant substances, or parts of the plant or plant extracts . . . would be [listed along with] what they could be used for. . . . So there are plenty of remedies for all kinds of gynecological problems.
So there you have it. Everyone one Game of Thrones has syphilis or some other form of dastardly loin vermin. Probably. And the most effective cure — barring a magical solution, obvs — involves furiously rubbing plants and branches all over their privates. Picture that the next time you see two characters hooking up on the show. It’ll change your whole worldview.