Girolamo Fracastoro  

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Girolamo Fracastoro (Fracastorius) (1478‑March 17, 1553) was a Venetian physician, scholar (in mathematics, geography and astronomy), poet and atomist. He is the author of Syphilidis, sive Morbi Gallici.


Born of an ancient family in Verona, and educated at Padua where at 19 he was appointed professor at the University. On account of his eminence in the practice of medicine, he was elected physician of the Council of Trent. A bronze statue was erected in his honor by the citizens of Padua, while his native city commemorated their great compatriot by a marble statue. He lived and practised in his hometown. In 1546 he proposed that epidemic diseases are caused by transferable tiny particles or "spores" that could transmit infection by direct or indirect contact or even without contact over long distances. In his writing, the "spores" of disease may refer to chemicals rather than to any living entities.

"I call fomites [from the Latin fomes, meaning "tinder"] such things as clothes, linen, etc., which although not themselves corrupt, can nevertheless foster the essential seeds of the contagion and thus cause infection."

His theory remained influential for nearly three centuries, before being displaced by germ theory.

The name for syphilis is derived from Fracastoro's 1530 epic poem in three books, Syphilis sive morbus gallicus ("Syphilis or The French Disease"), about a shepherd boy named Syphilus who insulted the sun god of Haiti and was punished by that god with a horible disease. The poem suggests using mercury and "guaiaco" as a cure. His 1546 book (De contagione -- "On Contagion") also gave the first description for typhus. The collected works of Fracastoro appeared for the first time in 1555.

Fracastoro's landmarks in Verona

Fracastoro's statue. An ancient statue (1559) dedicated to Fracastoro is standing on a beautiful arch in the central Piazza dei Signori,in Verona, just behind the monument to Dante Alighieri. On the basement, the following inscription can be read: "HIER FRACASTORIO \ PAULLI PHILIPPI F \ EX PUBLICA AUCTORITATE \ DICATA \ AN SAL MDLIX". According to a popular legend the stone ball Fracastoro keeps in his right hand, symbolizing the world, will fall on the first honourable person walking under the arch. As a matter of fact, many hundreds of people pass every day under the arch but the ball, after more than four Centuries, still remains in its place.


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