The scholarship and erudition of the Veronese physician Girolamo Fracastoro (1483–1553) were recognized early—he was appointed to the chair of logic and philosophy at the University of Padua at the tender age of nineteen. Also known by his Latin name, Hieronymus Fracastorius, he is best known for two works. The first, Syphilidis sive Morbi Gallici (Syphilis, or the French disease, 1530), is a description in verse of the then relatively new (to Europe) epidemic disease known, from that point on, as syphilis. The disease is named after Fracastoro's protagonist, the shepherd Syphilis, who offended the sun god and whose people (residents of an unidentified island in the Caribbean) were punished with the disease, which they transmitted to Spanish sailors, and, thereby, to the inhabitants of Europe. In his poem, Fracastoro provided a graphic description of the secondary and tertiary phases of the disease, recognized its venereal origin and its transmission by breast-feeding (though he did not seem to believe it was exclusively transmitted by contact) and suggested treatment with mercury.
Fracastoro is equally famous for his prose treatise on communicable diseases, De Contagionibus et Contagiosis Morbis et Earum Curatione (On contagion and contagious diseases, 1546), one of the earliest theoretical conceptualizations of something approximating germ theory. Fracastoro attributed epidemic diseases to living agents too small to see that were transmitted by physical touch or contagion. Plague was viewed by Fracastoro as contagious, as was smallpox. Contagion via microscopic agents was not returned to as a major explanatory theme in medicine until the work of Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) in the seventeenth century. Fracastoro was an astrologer, and he embellished his theory of contagion with a strong belief in the powerful influence of the stars on the progress of epidemic diseases.
Wright, W. C. (1930). Hieronymus Fracastorius. Contagion, Contagious Diseases and Their Treatment. New York: G. P. Putnam's.