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G-Manicus

Did Sulla suffer from some bizarre skin affliction?

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(*Disclaimer ... yes, I fully realize what I'm about to present comes from a book of historical FICTION)

 

I've recently begun reading "Fortune's Favourites" by Colleen McCullough chronicling Sulla's rise to Dictator. Early on she portrays a scene where young Pompey Magnus leads his troops to join with Sulla's forces and Pompey is aghast at Sulla's physical appearance (not to mention the fact that he was drunk!). Pompey comes to find that Sulla is suffering from some sort of affliction which causes his skin to itch uncontrollably, the effect of which is his skin is riddled with sores and bleeds, and his hair has fallen out. She indicates that Sulla at that point has taken to wearing a wig to hide this and that somehow drinking voluminous amounts of wine helps to control this condition from breaking out. The book mentions that the condition came about as a result of a bad sunburn suffered by Sulla in Greece during the Mithrandatic Wars.

 

Can anyone shed any light (no pun inteneded, Sulla!) as to whether there is any historical basis for the above? If so, any idea what this affliction was that Sulla suffered from? Was he believed to have suffered from skin cancer? Earlier on in the series, Sulla was said to have suffered a horrendous sunburn while on campaign with Marius in Jugurtha.

 

Why would wine counteract it? I know it's considered to be a preventative. (Doctor Asclepiades ... I'm looking at you!)

Edited by G-Manicus

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He had some sort of skin disease with open ulceration. I don't remeber where I've read that maggots crawled from one to the other.

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Clearly McCullough did her research, as did novelists such as Robert Graves, but a novelists nature is always to take that research and insert their own interpretations of it. Are they wrong? Not necessarily, but there is often not enough actual historical to support some of the details.

 

However, in this case, Plutarch provides some interesting information. He, unlike us unfortunately, would've also had access to Sulla's personal memoirs.

 

Plutarch provides a decent summary of the 'blotchy' skin condition in Life of Sulla ch 2

 

Describing his death, Plutarch goes on to explain the condition with worms that Kosmo mentioned. Life of Sulla ch. 36

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Thanks, Primus. I had just come across the Plutarch references and was coming here to post them as well.

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I enjoyed reading this post from more than a decade ago.

Sulla's skin disease has been discussed frequently in past.

From Plutarch's "Parallel Lives, Sulla:"

 

Quote

36 1 However, even though he had such a wife at home, he consorted with actresses, harpists, and theatrical people, drinking with them on couches all day long. For these were the men who had most influence with him now: Roscius the comedian, Sorex the archmime, and Metrobius the impersonator of women, for whom, though past his prime, he continued up to the last to be passionately fond, and made no denial of it.66 2 By this mode of life he aggravated a disease which was insignificant in its beginnings, and for a long time he knew not that his bowels were ulcerated. This disease corrupted his whole flesh also, and converted it into worms, so that although many were employed day and night in removing them, what they took away was as nothing compared with the increase upon him, but all his clothing,  p441 baths, hand-basins, and food, were infected with that flux of corruption, so violent was its discharge. 3 Therefore he immersed himself many times a‑day in water to cleanse and scour his person. But it was of no use; for the change gained upon him rapidly, and the swarm of vermin defied all purification.

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Sulla*.html

Although suggested by many (and certainly consistent with some features of Sulla's presentation), secondary and tertiary syphilis are unlikely since the virulent form of syphilis causing this eruption was unknown in Europe at the time.

http://www.casa-kvsa.org.za/1961/AC04-06-Carney.pdf

Perhaps Sulla suffered from a not-too-rare condition in the elderly known as bullous pemphigoid. Without treatment, patients with bullous pemphigoid suffer from intact blisters and erosions that frequently become secondarily infected with bacteria.

BP.jpg.3053922673530b8d1c8a365e004ea683.jpgBPA.jpg.d3f9b9d8ab503a31b5adc076fa033a38.jpg

 

Whatever the primary cause of the skin eruption,  maggots can lay eggs on these or any other open wounds (myiasis).

 

Myiasis.jpg.cad575762d36dfd7855d14c2ecbdd689.jpg

(Image of dog suffering from myiasis.)

 

 

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy
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