The Emperor’s Itch
Standing with his right hand tucked inside his waistcoat, Napoleon I of France looks off in deep thought, in Jacques-Louis David’s 1812 painting Napoleon in His Study. Though this stance appears regal, there are speculations that this iconic pose was merely a facade for his scratching convenience. At a time when scabies ran rampant, it is no surprise that some believe that Napoleon probably had “the itch.”
We now know “the itch” is attributed to scabies, which came from the Latin term scabere—“to scratch.” This condition manifests as pruritic rashes in the human host following colonization of the mite Sarcoptes scabiei in the skin as a result of skin-to-skin contact with an infected host.