First published 5/22/11 on The Doctor Weighs In
Watching the scandal de jour unfold on TV, as Dominique Strauss-Kahn was being hauled from his Olympian heights at the IMF and $3000 a night hotel suite to a cell in the Riker Island jail, made me think about the misfortunes befalling our rich and famous. Think Lindsay Lohan, or Brittney Spears, or Arnold the Schartzenator, or paper tiger Woods, or… (fill in the blanks). It seems they all succumbed to the vice of hubris; they thought they were above the laws of mere mortals –and were brought down with a vengeance. Of course, this is nothing new; a whole theatrical industry flourished in ancient Greece revolving around the tragedy wrought by hubris. But at least today’s demigod celebrities look to me hale and fit; none of those plebeian maladies of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.It hasn’t been always thus. There used to be a time when the powerful and the rich paid for their transgressions not with jail time, but with disease.
Gout used to be called “the disease of kings” or “blue-blooded disease”. Some very famous people suffered from this affliction, such as Alexander the Great, Christopher Columbus, Isaac Newton, and Henry VIII. Even Shakespeare’s Falstaff, the hard living, hard-drinking buffoon, exclaimed “a pox on my gout, a gout on my pox” (Henry IV, Part 2). Going even further back, an Egyptian medical hieroglyph from 2500 years ago describes the symptoms of gout. Now, Egyptian doctors of the time did not bother themselves with diseases of the masses; they ministered to the Royal court and the priesthood. So gout must have been quite common among these privileged classes.