Montesquieu

Herodotus1 tells us that the Jewish laws rela­ting to leprosy were deri­ved from the prac­tice of the Egyptians. The same disea­ses indeed requi­red the same reme­dies. These laws were unk­nown to the Greeks and to the early Romans, as was the disease. The cli­mate of Egypt and Palestine made them neces­sary ; and the ease with which this disease spreads ought to make us see very clearly the wis­dom and fore­sight of those laws.

We our­sel­ves have expe­rien­ced their effects. The Crusades had brought us leprosy ; the wise sta­tu­tes that were enac­ted pre­ven­ted it from sprea­ding to the mass of the peo­ple.

We see from the law of the Lombards that this disease was wides­pread in Italy before the Crusades, and meri­ted the atten­tion of legis­la­tors.2 Rotharis decreed that a leper cast out of his house and rele­ga­ted to a par­ti­cu­lar place could not dis­pose of his pro­perty, because the moment he had been remo­ved from his house he was consi­de­red dead ; to pre­vent any com­mu­ni­ca­tion with lepers, they were made inca­pa­ble of having pos­ses­sions.

I think this disease was brought to Italy by the conquests of the Greek empe­rors, in whose armies there could be mili­tias from Palestine or Egypt. However that may be, its advance was hal­ted until the time of the Crusades.

It is said that Pompey’s sol­diers brought back from Syria a disease much like leprosy. No sta­tute enac­ted at the time has come down to us, but it is likely there were some, since the disease was sus­pen­ded until the time of the Lombards.

Two cen­tu­ries ago, a disease unk­nown to our fathers came from the New World to ours and atta­cked the human race in the very source of life and plea­su­res. Most of the grea­test fami­lies of sou­thern Europe peri­shed from a disease that became too com­mon to be disho­no­ra­ble, and was now merely deadly. It was the thirst for gold that per­pe­tua­ted this malady : men were cons­tantly going to America, and fore­ver brin­ging back new strains of it.

As it is incum­bent on the wis­dom of legis­la­tors to keep watch over the health of citi­zens, it would have been most sen­si­ble to halt this com­mu­ni­ca­tion with laws writ­ten on the model of the Mosaic laws.

The rava­ges of the pla­gue are even more imme­diate and rapid. Its prin­ci­pal seat is in Egypt, whence it spreads throu­ghout the world. In most of the European sta­tes very good sta­tu­tes have been enac­ted to pre­vent its esta­blish­ment, and recently an admi­ra­ble means has been concei­ved for che­cking it : a line of troops is pla­ced around the infec­ted coun­try, which pre­vents all com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

The Turks,3 who have no policy on this sub­ject, see the Christians in the same city esca­ping the dan­ger, and them­sel­ves alone peri­shing : they buy the lepers’ clo­thing, put it on, and go their way. The doc­trine of a rigid des­tiny that deter­mi­nes eve­ry­thing makes the magis­trate into a tran­quil spec­ta­tor : he thinks that God has already done eve­ry­thing, and there is nothing for him to do.

Book II.

Book II, tit. 1, §3 and tit. 18, §1.

Rycaut, The History of the Present State of the Ottoman Empire, page 284.