King Arthur could have done it but he failed. Not only did he not acquire the grail as he and his knights originally set out to do but he allowed the terrifying and long lived Rabies to persist well past his fictitious reign. It is really a shame that when presented with the cure he did not see what was in front of his face. What cure, you ask? Don’t you know that the vaccine for Rabies was developed from a rabid rabbit! The very beast that Arthur, King of the Britains, faced and destroyed with that hellish holy hand grenade, carried by the war hungry Brother Maynard. After killing the demonic Oryctolagus Cuniculus Arthur could have preserved the vital spinal chord from which the vaccine was procured hundreds of years later, but no he had his little quest to get on with. Surely thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands if not millions, of human lives could have been saved if this highly esteemed leader had an ounce of insight in his brains. But alas, he did not.
It was the French scientist Louis Pasteur that stepped into the unknown and found the cure. That fact alone makes you re-think all the bad military jokes about the French doesn’t it. If a bunch of armed knights of the Round Table weren’t able to survive an encounter with a rabid rabbit who would have thought that a 19th century Frenchman could have? Even the ones that did survive admitted to soiling their own armor and declared that the rabbit was as deadly as the not-yet-invented dynamite. (Who invented the holy hand grenade then, hmmmm?) Though once you take a look at Pasteur you know that he was a brave man (the beard tells all), without fear of his own death he collected rabid rabbits. He caged them and let them die and from the intellectual miasma that was 19th century biology he extracted the vaccine for a 100% fatal disease—Rabies. Thanks Louis. Thanks for being so brave, so smart, and so damned handsome. The world is better off because of you. (Though Old Yeller is understandably disappointed in the limited nature of the rural distribution of the vaccine.)
That the cure to rabies was derived from the spinal tissues of dead rabid rabbits was one of the many interesting facts from the fascinating book Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. Before this there was a fascinating array of literary and historical references to Rabies such as when in the Illiad the word Rabies, greek = λύσσα, is invoked when Homer likens Hector to a “raging dog.” Also, mountains of folklore exist in various frightening tales of poor souls afflicted by the virus. One such example is the story of a newlywed couple riding home together when for no reason the husband jumps down from the horse to unexpectedly hand the reigns to his new bride and wander off into the dark forest. Moments later a rabid dog/wolf emerges to attack the damsel. She somehow survives the scuffle, though not unscathed, and continues her ride/walk home. When she arrives she finds to her surprise her husband is already there. Horror fills her heart when she notices bits of the cloth from the dress she was wearing stuck in his HIDEOUS TEETH! This could very well simply be a variation of a vampire tale or werewolf story rather than a specific reference to Rabies. Alternatively, perhaps the real lived terror of Rabies and the fear of rabid dogs (and rabbits, hee hee hee) could have contributed to the folklore that shaped the writers of such scary stories—like Bram Stoker.
In sum, Rabid is a truly fascinating volume telling the history of a truly terrifying infectious agent. Part history, part horror story, all great.