Spes phthisica is a phenomenon, noted and described as a state of euphoria occurring in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis. (spes=hope; phthisis=tuberculosis).  The Greek physicians were so impressed that they invented such a word to characterised the perpetual hope of recovery even in the face of devastating disease and by a feverish urge for accomplishment, as if the patient were anxious to achieve all of which he was potentially capable in an exciting race with death.  Pulmonary tuberculosis, then known as consumption was an epidemic of massive proportion.  Incidence in the late 18th and early-to-mid 19th centuries was estimated to be as high as 1 in 4 people in America and parts of Europe.  It spread out across several centuries unlike waves of diseases like plague and cholera.  Perhaps turning the ailment into something like a positive personality trait made it easier to cope with.

It was so romanticised that there even runs a suggestion that the intellectually gifted are the most likely to contract the disease, and the same fire which wastes the body also makes the mind shine with a brighter light.  Untimely death was a spiritual triumph.  Loved ones are beautiful with their slenderness, hollow cheeks, gaunt face, shiny eyes and pale complexion against which the flushed cheeks of a constant, low-grade fever stood out vividly.

Many words have been written;  "She was wasted almost to a shadow....ethereal delicacy..transparency... perfectly motionless...statue-like...fair creature, breathing so imperceptibly that a rose-bud might have slept on her lips unfluttered".  A lot of famous writers and artists were themselves afflicted with TB.  They became visible symbols of the disease which helped TB take on a romantic cast, with the image of the frail, flame cheeked, coughing genius dying gracefully on the chaise lounge.

This perverted sentimentalism did not last.  Towards the end of the 19th century, industrial revolution born miserable living condition, city filled with men, women, children, often cold and starving, working long hours, breathing in smoke and coal dust.  The germ theory of disease also beacme widely accepted, TB was not a constitutional and herditary condition, but a contagious disease. 

Tuberculosis, horrible as it is has had a huge impact on history, literature and art and is a theme in itself.  It is sadly still prevalent today, nearly 2 million people around the world die from it every year, often the poor.  The afflicted are untouchable, feared and repulsed.  They suffer pain, fear and stigma.  It is treatable and curable.
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