Girolamo Fracastoro

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fracastoro, Girolamo


Born 1478 in Verona; died there Aug. 8, 1553. Italian Renaissance physician, astronomer, and poet.

In 1502, Fracastoro graduated from the university in Padua and subsequently became a professor there. His first scientific works dealt with geology (the history of the earth), geography, optics (light refraction), astronomy (observation of the moon and stars), philosophy, and psychology. In 1530 he published the scientific didactic poem Syphilis sive morbus Gallicus (Syphilis, or the French Disease), from which the disease received its name.

In his major work, De contagione et contagiosis morbis et curatione (On Contagion, Contagious Diseases, and Treatment; 1546), which has been repeatedly reprinted in many countries, Fracastoro presented his theory for the nature, transmission, and treatment of contagious diseases. He described three pathways of infection: (1) through direct contact, (2) through objects known as fomites, (3) over a distance, by way of imperceptible seeds of contagion, which he called seminaria. According to Fracastoro, an infection has a material basis (“contagion is corporal”). Fracastoro was the first to use the term “infection” in the medical sense. He described smallpox, measles, bubonic plague, consumption, rabies, leprosy, and typhus. In the development of his views of the contagious nature of infections, he partially retained (in regard to syphilis) earlier concepts of the transmission of these diseases through a miasma.

Fracastoro’s works laid the foundations for epidemiology and the clinical treatment of infectious diseases.


Opera omnia. Venice, 1584.
In Russian translation:
O kontagii, kontagioznykh bolezniakh i lechenii, fascs. 1–3. Introductory article by P. E. Zabludovskii. Moscow, 1954.
O sifilise. Moscow, 1956.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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One of Biow's finest chapters is given to the most important humanist physician of the sixteenth century, Girolamo Fracastoro (1478-1553) of Verona, the pioneer of epidemiology in De contagione et contagiosis morbis (On contagion and pestilent fevers) (1546), and the author of the Lucretian medical poem Syphilis sive morbus Gallicus (Syphilis or the French disease) (1530).
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