FRACASTORO, Girolamo (1478-1553)
17° Congress of European Academy of Dermatology and Vemereology, Paris.
Girolamo Fracastoro (in the literary bibliography known also with the Latin name Hieronymus Fracastorius), was born in 1478 to Verona, in that time still Republic of Venice, from a noble family.
He studied at Padua University, where he was graduated in 1502.
At the same University, was assigned him the chair of Logic and Philosophy.
His teacher, was the doctor-philosopher, Pietro Pomponazzi, instead, his study colleagues were: Andrea Navagero, studious and historian, Pietro Bembo and Gaspare Contarini, afterwards, both of them named Cardinal.
Medicine was his main passion, but from humanist and scientist, he also interested to the astronomy, mathematic, physic, botany, geology, geography, and composition of verses.
He was contemporary and friend of Nicolaus Copernico, polish astronomer.
In quality of astronomer, with Pietro Apiano, he affirmed that the comets’ tails always appear along the direction of the sun, but in the opposite sense of it.
Described also, an instrument used in astronomy, realized in the following years, by Galileo Galilei: the spyglass.
As Doctor, he’s considered one of the fathers founders of the modern medicine: for the first, he hypothesized that the infections are caused by germs carriers of diseases, with the ability to multiply themselves inside the organism and to infect through the breath and different other forms of transmission.
Considering the acquired prestige in the field of the medicine, he was named, Archiatra Pontifical, and in the second time, the main Doctor of the Trent’s council (1545), under the Pontificate of Paul III°.
Such charge, allowed him to be one of the craftsmen of the same council, wished from Holy See.
The Church wanted to move the council from Trent to the city of Bologna, wich was nearer to Rome and outside from the Germanic Empire.
The occasion came when, in February of 1547, he diagnosed a worrisome epidemic of typhus fever bursted in Trent.
The Papal legates, decided therefore, to transfer the Assizes to Bologna and the Pope confirmed it.
In the 1521, Fracastoro wrote to Cardinal Pietro Bembo some letters, describing an unknown illness coming from the new world and cause of epidemics, that he named for the first: Syphilis.
In August of 1530 he published in Verona an epic poem in three volumes about it.
The work had 50 editions in Latin language and about 60 editions in other languages: German, French and English.
In this poem is narrated the history of Sifilo, a young shepherd who offended Apollo, God of the sun, that punished him with a terrible illness that irremediably destroys the beauty.
Really the author composed two version of the work, both of them in Latin and in prose, dedicated to his friend and University study colleague: Cardinal Pietro Bembo.
One of the two essentially literary, with the title. “Hieronymi Fracastorii Syphilis siue morbus gallicus” easier understanding and wide diffusion; and the other in form of essay, entitled "Hieronymi Fracastorii Syphilidis sive de morbo gallico", that results to be a scientific monograph, compiled for the Doctors; where the pathology is described in a detailed way, in its symptomatology, diagnosis and therapy.
This last version has been found in 1939 by Francesco Pellegrini and preserved in the civic library in Verona.
Fracastoro’s work, was diffusedly known in Italy in its translation in vulgar Italian, “Syphilis sive de morbo gallico”, published by Vincenzo Bernini, in the 1765: “….primieramente era mirabil cosa che l’introdotta infezione sovente segni non desse manifesti appieno se Quattro corsi non compia la luna….” “…tosto, pel corpo tutto, ulceri informi usciano e orribilmente il viso….”.
It has not verified if Fracastoro, Doctor and Poet, created this name, Sifilo, from nothing, or extrapolated it, from others already existing.
In fact, several etymologies have been proposed by luminaries authors (Es. Sunphileo, rather, coming from the love according to Falloppia).
But everything is, the origin of this word; it ‘s certainly possible to affirm, that the neologism had a great resonance and replaced very soon, all the other names with which, the disease was identified.
The literary choice of the poem, being praised by the contemporary, thanks to the style and the rich imagination, has been for the author, the opportunity to describe in the scientific way the Syphilis and the possible remedies with which, he believed that it can be care: mercury and guaiac, called “ligno sancto”, an originates wood of the Antilles, green, with black striations, very hard and considered the heaviest wood existing in the world.
Fracastoro sustained that the syphilis (considered a divine punishment because contracted for the easy customs) could be eliminated only through a deep perspiration.
For this reason he administered the mercury, which being toxic for the salivary glands, it produced a powerful secretion that allowed the recovery.
In similar way, the "guaiac" acted, it also needs to remember, that to the tisanes and the infusions, drawn by the guaiac, the medical science, attributed, in that historical period, powers of Panacea.
In 1535, Fracastoro wrote “De causis criticorum dierum”, and in 1538 “Dies critici vel de dierum criticorum causis” texts in which he analyzed from the physician-philosophical point of view, the critical days of the illness.
It ‘s known also, his work "Homocentricum", in which he proposed an alternative to the cosmological-tolemaico system, taking back the system of the homocentric spheres.
In 1546 the most genial work of Fracastoro was published about the medicine, entitled "De contagione et contagiosis morbis et curatione".
The Italian Doctor conceived, the existence of contagion’s vectors, that called "seminaria", during an epoch in which the microbes weren’t known yet.
He had observed, in fact, that the illness was transmitted both for direct contact among people (contactu), that through objects, as it happens for example with the garments (fomites), both to distance as in the case of the smallpox and the plague.
In this work Gracastoro wrote:" it seems that three different types of contagion exist. The first infects only for direct contact. The second acts in the same way but it leaves besides tinders, and this contagion can spread out through these (tinders), as for example: the scabies, the tuberculosis, the malignant stains, and similar.
Speaking about tinders, I intend garments, wood objects and things of such sort, that although they aren’t contaminated, they can preserve, however, the original germs of the contagion and infect through them.
For the third, a type of contagion exists, that transmits the illness for direct contact, through the tenders and also to distance, for example: pestilential fevers, the etisies, some types of ophthalmia , typhus and similar.
These different types of contagions, seem to obey to a determined law; rather, those that infect the far objects, do it, both for direct contact and through the tinders, those that are contagious through the tinderses are also it for direct contact, not all are contagious to distance".
Fracastoro therefore, realized the existence of micro-organisms able to transmit the infections, proposing a scientific theory on the germs, 300 years before the empirical formulation by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch.
Nevertheless its astronomic, cosmological and cosmogonic knowledges, brought him to integrate the theory of the epidemic contagion, with the presence of the influential power of the stars, in to progress of the same epidemics.
In 1546 the work was published "De sympathia et antipathia rerum-Liber unus", a text of natural philosophy in which Fracastoro affirms that in nature everything is connected from a natural and universal strength: it deals of the "sympathia" of everything for the part, and of the part for everything.
This strength is considered by the author, not in spiritual sense, but in physical and natural sense, according to the laws of the atomistical theory. in fact he explains, that are the flows of the atoms to establish the relationships among all the things of the world.
He sustains therefore, the attraction between the similar things and the repulsion among those different. Fracastoro refuses the explanation of the phenomenons through hidden causes, because he believes that the appeal to them, isn’t an attitude that suitable to an authentic scientist.
He believes that it’s always necessary, to examine deeply the facts, so it’s possible to elaborate wide inductive generalizations.
Fracastoro, therefore, sustains that in all of our scientific investigations, it needs to follow to the description and the evaluation of the phenomenons.
He also wrote, three philosophical dialogues 1) Naugerius sive de Poetica - 2) Turrius sive de Intellectione - 3) Fracastorius sive de Anima. These works treat the theme of the human nature, examined in its cognitive abilities and in its relationships with the cosmos and with a supernatural reality, in front of which, the speculative trial appears inadequate.
The first work, treats the poetic’s theme, and it is the most meaningful of the last year of the author’s life, because he strongly defends the autonomy of the art.
With an Aristotelian vision, even if, with many elements of platonic nature, the poetry is considered as universal representation, as the action through which the idea is realized in its visible beauty.
It’s recognized besides, the freedom of the artist, to transpose the universal beauty, inside to the objects, in sensitive forms.
In the “Turrius sive de Intellectione”, a dialogue to “gnoseologico”(gnosis
Fracastoro, GirolamoHieronymi Fracastorii Syphilis siue morbus Gallicus. - Veronae, 1530 mense Augusto.
Hieronymus Fracastorius (1478-1553), 17° Congress of European Academy of Dermatology and Vemereology, Paris.