(c. 1478-1553)
Girolamo Fracastoro, a prominent Italian humanist, taught logic at the Uni­versity of Padua and later practiced medicine in Verona. He is most famous for his study of syphilis, penning a narrative poem in Latin, Syphilis sive morbus Gallicus (1530), and writing De contagione (1548), both of which describe the nature of syphilis, how diseases are spread, and possible cures for diseases.
Fracastoro was born in Verona to an influential family that eventually sent him to the academy in Padua. He studied literature, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and medicine, and he became a lecturer in logic at Padua in 1501 and conciliarius anatomicus in 1502 and was elected to the College of Physi­cians in 1505. Fracastoro retreated to Incaffi in 1510 after an outbreak of the plague, where he practiced medicine to support his family.
While Fracastoro was in Incaffi, he began writing his famous poem Syphilis. He applied this name to the pox more commonly known as the French disease. Many contemporaries believed that the disease had been brought back from the Americas by Columbus, had been spread throughout Spain and France, and had been brought to Italy with the invasion of Charles VIII in 1494. Fracastoro disregarded this theory and found evidence that the disease had existed in clas­sical times but had been forgotten. He believed that the disease resurfaced be­cause of certain astrological conditions. Fracastoro linked his world view to his writings on syphilis and contagion. He disputed the theories of Galen and Ar­istotle and gained a reputation as an iconoclast. He believed that syphilis was spread by "seeds" in the air as well as through physical contact. Some historians view this as the forerunner to the germ theory.
In De contagione Fracastoro links sympathy to contagion. The underlying feeling between two elements, or sympathy, is the principle behind the spread of disease. According to his theory, the body is made up of numerous invisible particles that are passed in contagion, corrupting the new body. Fracastoro be­lieved in three types of contagion: contagion by touch, contagion through fo-mites, where particles are able to survive for periods of time in inanimate objects, and contagion by a glance. He placed syphilis in the second category. The seeds remained dormant for a long period of time until astrological con­ditions enabled the outbreak to occur. The seeds originated in the air, entered the body, germinated, and became ready for contagion. Fracastoro believed that the disease could be cured by destroying the seeds and therefore advocated the use of cold, drying-out medicines such as guaiacum, first made known by Ulrich von Hutten* in 1519.
Fracastoro's discussion of syphilis and other contagious diseases changed medical thinking by trying to explain contagion and what exactly was being transmitted. Fracastoro enjoyed a wide circle of friends, including Pietro Bembo,* an influential Venetian noble and cardinal, and Pope Leo X,* to whom he dedicated his second book on syphilis. He even garnered a role in the Council of Trent by having it moved from Trent due to an outbreak of the plague, which was to the advantage of Pope Paul III. Fracastoro's major works were published posthumously in Opera omnia in 1555.
J. Arrizabalaga, J. Henderson, and R. French, The Great Pox, 1997. G. Eatough, Fracastoro's Syphilis, 1984.
Paul Miller

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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