Venus, the Roman goddess of love (identified with the Greek Aphrodite), loaned her name to two words of dissimilar meanings: venerable, with its sense of respect because of old age or associated dignity, and venereal, pertaining to sexual love. When the word disease follows venereal, it transforms venereal into a fearful word. Its dictionary definition is «arising from sexual intercourse with an infected person».
A very virulent venereal disease is syphilis, which comes by its name through a Latin poem titled Syphilis, sive Morbus Gallicus («Syphilis, or
the French Disease»), written in 1530 by Girolamo Fracastoro (1483 — 1553), a Veronese physician and poet who was the first known victim of the disease. The poem’s hero, a blasphemous shepherd named Syphilus, so enraged the Sun God that he struck him with a new disease as a punishment: «He first wore buboes dreadful to the sight,/Hrst felt pains and sleepless past the night;/From him the malady received its name». Perhaps the poet was thinking of the Greek suphilos, which means «a lover of pigs».
The most prevalent form of venereal disease is gonorrhea (from the Greek gonos, «that which begets», «a seed», plus rhoia, «a flowing»). This medical term was coined by an Italian physician in 1530, but it first appeared in print in 1547 in Boorde’s Breviary of Healthe: «The 166 Chaptaires doth shew of a Gomary passion». Gomary was an early name for gonorrhea.
Venereal disease made no distinction among the classes. Some of its distinguished sufferers were Herod, Julius Caesar, three popes, Henry VIII, Ivan the Terrible, Keats, Schubert, Goya, and Goethe.
The goddess Aphrodite also loaned her name to matters pertaining to sexual activity. An aphrodisiac, a drug or food that arouses or increases sexual desire, honors her.