Spank the Syphilis Out of You!

Medical Ethics in the RenaissanceMedical Ethics in the Renaissance

Submitter: This book (a donation to our Medical Library) has a straightforward title but an intriguing cover image. I have to admit, it makes me wonder if spanking really did work on people’s syphilis back in the day!

Holly: Not a bad book at all, for certain libraries, but that cover is awesomely awful! Intriguing enough to make you want to know about medical ethics in the Renaissance, anyway.

spanking for syphillis


  1. I have a real problem with this cover–one of my pet peeves is costumes from the wrong historical era on the cover of the book and this one qualifies by a couple hundred years.

    1. Respectfully, image was published in 1718 as the frontispiece for a medical treatise on the subject of spanking as a treatment for syphilis. (It’s in the British Library.) The English Renaissance is generally considered to have ended during the 17th century, so even if you’re getting pedantic this is within a few years of being a contemporary image. Are you saying they didn’t know what their own clothes were supposed to look like?

      1. Wow! It’s great to know that this is an original image for the “treatment.” Sometimes publishers don’t select the right cover imageā€¦those tricorn hats aren’t usually associated with the Renaissance (up to 1600), hence the criticism.

  2. I’ve recently become kind of obsessed with reading about obsolete medical treatments, but I’ve never heard of spanking being used! Can’t be half as bad as bloodletting or having holes put in your skull. I wish I could see more of this book

  3. As a librarian, I can’t really see anything that would qualify this as an “awful” library book.

  4. I’m really curious about what else is going on in that picture. The woman on the bed doesn’t look quite dressed, the one doing the spanking has demonic eyes, and the two gentlemen at the window appear to be gossiping about all the goings-on inside. Here’s hoping they understand the scene better than I do (or that, if they don’t, they were able to come up with a truly bizarre explanation).

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