The Galileo Project
site map

Fracastoro, Girolamo

1. Dates
Born: Verona, ca. 1478
Died: near Verona, 6 Aug. 1553
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 75
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
Fracastoro came from an old Veronese family. Despite what some sources say, it was not a noble family. Many of the family had been in the law or in the service of the city, but I found nothing at all about the father's specific occupation.
Fracastoro spent his early years in his father's villa, Incaffi, fifteen miles from Verona on Lake Garda. Fracastoro inherited this estate, or another like it in the same locale. By any standards this has to be called at least prosperous.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Padua, M.D.
He received his first literary and philosophical instruction from his father. He studied literature, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine at the University of Padua, and received his M.D. degree in 1502. It appears that he studied philosophy under Pomponazzi. I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic.
There is apparently some reason to doubt how pious and sincere Fracastoro was but abundant evidence that he conformed to the Church.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Medicine, Natural Philosophy, Pharmacology
Subordinate: Astronomy, Geography, Botany
Fracastoro's scientific thought culminated and concluded with De contagione et contagiosis morbis et curatione (1546), which assures him a lasting place in the history of epidemiology. In it he described numerous contagious diseases and the means by which contagion can be spread. Closely associated with this was Syphilis, sive morbus gallicus the book that gave the disease its name. Fracastoro was a humanist poet, and some of his medical works, including Syphilis, are in poetry.
Besides his medical writings, he also published works on natural philosophy (a work on sympathies and antipathies), and astronomy.
He was a student of the medicinal properties of plants.
Syphilis contains an important section on Columbus discovery of American, although Fracastoro rejected the theory. already abroad, that Columbus brought the disease back to Europe from the new world.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Medicine
Secondary: Academia, Patronage
He became an instructor in logic at the University of Padua in 1501, and in anatomy in 1502. He left Padua in 1508. After returning to Verona, he dedicated himself to his studies, to reorganizing his estate, and, for a while, to medical practice, treating patients from all over Italy. Wright argues that the period of medical practice lasted from 1509 to about 1530, and he makes it clear that the practice was a source of income.
He became medicus concuctus et stipendiatus of the Council of Trent in 1545. Marini prints his joint opinion (together with another physician, Balduino) that the Council should vacate Trent immediately because of the pestilence raging there.
Around 1546 he was made canon of Verona, with special dispensations. I categorize this, not as ecclesiastical income, but as patronage.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat
In 1509, when the imminent war with the Holy Roman Emperor and the League of Cambrai caused the University of Padua to close, the leader of the army of Venice, Alviano, a condottiere elevated to the rank Duke of Pordenone for his victories had Fracastoro stay with him in Pordenone (in the Udine) in Alviano's short-lived Accademia Friulana.
Bishop G.M. Giberti, a patron to Fracastoro, supplied him with a house in Malcesine on Lake Garda.
Fracastoro dedicated Syphilis to Cardinal Pietro Bembo, Secretary of Briefs to Leo X. Bembo asserted that the dedication was the most precious gift he had ever received. Bembo had entered actively into the completion of the work, giving advice on 111 different lines and passages.
Fracastoro dedicated De contagione as well as some poems to his patron, Card. Farnese. Pope Paul III (a Farnese) nominated him as medicus conductus et stipendiatus of the Council of Trent. Fracastoro had dedicated his work, Homocentrica, to Paul.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Medical College
College of Physicians of Verona, 1505.
His home in Verona became a place for philosophical and scientific meetings of his learned friends. He is said to have been friendly with the leading intellectuals of the age. With Bembo he belonged to the academy of Manutius; he corresponded with Ariosto. He may have know Copernicus in Padua.
His correspondence with Rannusio and others has been published.
  1. Vita di Girolamo Fracastoro con la versione di alcuni suoi canti, (Verona, 1952). The life here is the anonymous biography composed in the 16th century.
  2. F. Pellegrini, "Per la storia del poema 'De morbo gallico'," in F. Pellegini, ed. Scitti inediti di Girolamo Fracastoro, (Verona, 1954).
  3. W. Cave Wright, introduction to his translation of Fracastoro's Contagion, (New York, 1930).
  4. Geoffrey Eatough, "Introduction," in Fracastoro's "Syphilis," Geoffey Eatough, tr. and ed. (Liverpool, 1984).
  5. P.A. Saccardo, "La botanica in Italia," Memorie del Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 26 (1895), 75, and 27 (1895), 50-1.
  6. Pietro Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVII, 2 vols. (Rome, 1925-28),1, 39-41. In the copy I have, vol. 1 is from the second ed, (1932) and vol. 2 from the first (1928). I gather that pagination in the two editions is not identical.
  7. Gaetano Luigi Marini, Degli archiatri pontifici, 2 vols. (Roma, 1784), 1, 389-90, and 2, 291-5.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. E. di Leo, Scienze ed umanesimo in Girolamo Fracastoro, 2nd ed. (Salerno, 1953).
  2. E. Barbarani, Girolamo Fracastoro e le sue opere, (Venezia, 1891). F. Pellegrini, Fracastoro, (Trieste, 1948). PA8520 .F7.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.