Fracastoro’s Judgment: what would Girolamo say about SARS-COV-2?
[Submitted to History Open Request for Publication 01.15.2023]
- Who is your favorite historical figure and why?
Though not a famous person to most people, Girolamo Fracastoro is associated with three enduring legacies: 1) As a poet; 2) The subject of an oil painting that was stored in the London Gallery of Art from 1924 to its restoration and revelation that Titian was the creator in 2013, and most importantly; 3) He was both the author of the term “fomite” and he stands today as arguably the originator of “germ theory,” before Pasteur and Koch. As a public health and emergency preparedness practitioner, researcher, and instructor for three decades, I revere Fracastoro for his ability to see the un-seeable: his fomite, a contaminated surface or object capable of disease transmission, and his descriptions of diseases transmissible through the air, both concepts argued extensively, dismissed by many, and equivocal during the existential COVID-19 Pandemic. My intention, if selected to write, is to symbolically consider his reaction to our current global health predicament as if he were able to travel time and witness the present day.
- Can you judge the past with today’s lens?
Judgment implies an acceptance or rejection and reparation of something based upon an ethical standard. Bearing in mind that the epidemiologist engages in the science of observation and estimation, in a sense predicting the future based on occurrences in the past (a task shared by the emergency preparedness and response practitioner), there is no doubt that we will be collectively condemned in the future to be accountable for miss-steps made since December 2019. The answer is yes.
We carry forward discussion based upon what we know about Fracastoro, our study of the best available information of the past while imagining his acceptance or rejection of the state of global health and the actions taken by us. We gauge his reaction, from our likes and dislikes, our tolerance for inconvenience, to our satisfaction with our own comprehension and perception of risk. Like the restoration of Titian’s defaced painting of Fracastoro, we will strip away the last three years of grime and sedimentation, to reveal a correct depiction of Fracastoro’s Judgment.