Leprosy in Art and Literature
A Nigerian Mask believed to represent disfigurement caused by leprosy
References to leprosy in literature may go back as far as 600 BC, with references from the ancient Greeks and Romans made in reports son their victorious armies return from wars in Asia.
Leprosy in the Bible:
There is much debate over what exact type of disease is meant by the reference to leprosy in the bible. At that point in time it is understood that the term lepra in the text is used to describe many different scaly skin diseases. Evidence has been narrowed down, however, to show which diseases most likely referred to the leprosy we know today. The earliest reference to leprosy in the bible is seen in seen in the times of Moses (Exodus 4:6-7 and other books relating to those times including Miriam, II Kings, and Num.) refers to those inflicted with a whiteness of skin eruptions with scaling, usually a sudden infliction as punishment for a wrong doing. The “law of leprosy” in Leviticus which asserts the uncleanness and subsequent separation of lepers from the rest of society is the main reason the idea that lepers are unclean and must be ostracized still exists today.
During the Middle Ages those who contracted leprosy were seen as unclean. Theirs was an affliction that made corruption visible, and was seen as an emblem of decay. Symptoms of the disease gave the metaphor new meaning, that of corruption, decay, pollution and weakness. Sufferers of leprosy in the Middle Ages had to wear special clothing distinguishing them from the uninfected population. They also had to ring bells to warn others that they were around, and walk on a particular side of the road (depending on wind direction). Even in death, specific spaces in cemeteries or even separate cemeteries themselves were reserved for lepers.