Gout is, along with stone disease, emblematic of chronic illnesses that cause acute attacks. It is characterized by intense joint pain, often in the foot - hence the other name of this disease, podagra, literally “foot disease” in Greek:

The pain sometimes resembles “a violent stretching or tearing those Ligaments, sometimes the gnawing of a Dog, and sometimes a weight. Moreover, the Part affected has such a quick and exquisite Pain, that it is not able to bear the weight of the Clothes upon it.Thomas Sydenham, A Treatise of the Gout, in The Works of that excellent practical physician Dr. Thomas Sydenham wherein… acute diseases are treated of…, 9th ed. by John Pechey, London, printed for J. Darby, A. Bettesworth and F. Clay, 1729, p. 343. (Thomas Sydenham, Treatise on Gout and Dropsy, 1683)

Thomas Sydenham - The Invisible Teeth of Gout

Gout was a frequent subject in texts from the 16th-18th centuries, especially since it affected a large number of erudite and powerful people.

Soul and body

Gout illustrates the soul's incapacity to stoically overcome physical pain: “He who has gout, a stone or some other very painful disease is unhappy in the moment, even if he is lavished with gifts and honors by his princeNicolas Malebranche, Entretiens sur la métaphysique, sur la religion et sur la mort, nouvelle édition, revue, corrigée et augmentée [1711], 3e entretien, in Œuvres, ed. G. Rodis-Lewis, vol. II, Paris, Gallimard, « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade », 1992, p. 1026., writes the philosopher Nicolas Malebranche (1711). The moralist La Rochefoucauld himself saw his “constancy overcomeMarie de Rabutin-Chantal Sévigné, Correspondance, ed. Roger Duchêne, Gallimard, « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade », t. I, 1972, p. 197. by gout, according to the Marquise of Sévigné.

Madame de Sévigné - Acute Pain, the Only True Evil

Gout, “our only calamity, which leaves us bedridden, is evil, tortures our heels, crucifies us, breaks our knees...” (based on a Latin edition of Lucian of Samosata, 1537).

Political mobile

Emperor Charles V suffered from gout, especially in his hands, which, he lamented, prevented him from opening a simple letter and dealing with matters of state. This chronic disease became an argument justifying his abdication, a political decision that was controversial at the time.

Charles V - Gout, a Case of Force Majeure

“Cruel torturer who mutilates a man by depriving him of the use of his limbs and overwhelms his soul with its tortures, disqualifying him from any serious occupationIn Théodore Juste, L’abdication de Charles Quint, Liège, J.G. Carmanne, 1851, p. 14. (words attributed to Charles V on gout).

Social satire

Gout was seen as the privilege of the overfed and sedentary rich, supposedly sparing the common people. In the fable “The Gout and the Spider”, La Fontaine satirizes physicians, who are masters in the art of making this disease linger for their wealthy patients, thus ensuring a stable income for themselves.

Jean de La Fontaine - Gout, an Illness of the Rich