Francis Cairns Publications

ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs ISSN 0309-5541

Fracastoro's Syphilis. Introduction, Text, Translation and Notes

Geoffrey Eatough

ARCA 12. ISBN 978-0-905205-20-5. Cloth, viii+295. Publ. 1984.

Author   Extract    Reviews

Girolamo Fracastoro (?1478-1553) was a doctor and scientist, as well as a poet. He was born in the northern Italian city of Verona, into a prominent local family. Verona is at one of the crossroads of Europe, and although Fracastoro's whole life was spent in that vicinity, he maintained a wide circle of friends and correspondents, keeping up-to-date with what was going on elsewhere. Two cataclysmic events - the European voyages to the New World, and the sudden appearance and rapid spread of syphilis - are the combined themes of his greatest literary work. The Syphilis, dedicated to Pietro Bembo, became one of the most celebrated poems of the Renaissance. Soon after its publication (in 1530) Fracastoro was hailed as a major Latin poet, an equal of Virgil.

In the first two books of Syphilis Fracastoro not only describes in vivid terms the symptoms and known cures for syphilis, but also presents for the first time his theory of 'contagion', a major breakthrough towards modern understanding of disease. He was later to write a scientific prose treatise De Contagione. The third and final book of the Syphilis gives a highly mythical narrative of the landing of Columbus in the New World. His reason for including this American material was not, as we might suppose, that syphilis was brought from the Americas to Europe, but rather that the New World provided Europe with one of the more useful remedies for syphilis, an extract from a native American wood, guaiacum. In spite of its poetic mode, Fracastoro's account draws in some detail on contemporary sources for the European discovery of the New World, as Eatough's notes show.

This edition offers a 35-page introduction, text with facing English translation, notes elucidating literary, mythical, geographical and botanical topics, and a word-index of the poem.

GEOFFREY EATOUGH is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Classics at the University of Wales, Lampeter. Since completing his Syphilis edition he has worked extensively on the contemporary sources for the European voyages of discovery, an interest stimulated by his investigations into the third book of the Syphilis, with its highly mythologized version of Columbus' voyage to the West Indies. In 1998 Eatough's massive Selections from Peter Martyr appeared as volume 5 of the Reportorium Columbianum (UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies).



(From translation, Book 1, lines 319-81). What especially caused wonder was that even after the infection was caught the moon often completed its circle four times before sufficiently clear symptoms were shown. For it does not openly betray itself as soon as it has been received within a body, but it lies hid for a fixed period and gradually gains strength by feeding. Meanwhile, however, those afflicted were burdened by an unusual lethargy and, feeling a languor with no apparent cause, performed their tasks with increasing weariness and tried to keep themselves going although their whole body felt sluggish. Their natural liveliness fell downcast from their eyes, their colour from their unhappy brow. Slowly a caries, born amid squalor in the body's shameful parts, became uncontrollable and began to eat the areas on either side and even the sexual organ. Then the symptoms of this defilement betrayed themselves more clearly. For as soon as the clean, kindly light of day had retreated and brought on the melancholy shades of night, and the innate heat, which at night usually makes for the deep internal parts, had abandoned the surface of the body, and no longer nursed the limbs now covered in a thick mass of humours, then the joints, arms, shoulder-blades and calves were tormented by intolerable pains. For when the contagion had passed through all the veins and had polluted even the humours and what was meant to feed the body, Nature whose wont is to reject what is harmful, attempted to expel the infected part from the whole body towards the surface. But because this matter with its dense substance was slow and by reason of its sluggishness tenacious, much of it clung, during its passage, to the nerves and muscles. Then as it spread it caused intolerable pains in the joints. This matter had a lighter element, more naturally inclined to erupt, which, as it was expelled, made for the surface of the skin and the limbs' extremities. Immediately unsightly sores broke out over all the body and made the face horrifyingly ugly, and disfigured the breast by their foul presence: the disease took on a new aspect: pustules with the shape of an acorn-cup and rotten with thick slime, which soon afterwards gaped wide open and flowed with a discharge like mucous and putrid blood. Moreover the disease gnawed deep and burrowed into the inmost parts, feeding on its victims' bodies with pitiable results: for on quite frequent occasions we ourselves have seen limbs stripped of their flesh and the bones rough with scales, and mouths eaten away yawn open in a hideous gape while the throat produced feeble sounds. As often either on the cherry or on Phyllis' mournful tree you have seen a thick fluid seep from the moist bark, then harden into a sticky gum, in just the same way, where this disease holds sway a mucus usually flows all over the body: then at last it solidifies into an ugly scab. So someone sighing over the springtime of his life and his beautiful youth, and gazing with wild eyes down at his disfigured members, his hideous limbs and swollen face, often in his misery railed against the Gods' cruelty, often against the stars'. Meanwhile all the creatures on earth enjoyed the sweet slumbers of the weary and night's deep sleep: for the sufferers no rest was on hand, sleep had totally fled to the winds: for them Dawn as she blushed in her rising brought no pleasure: for them day was hostile, the night's apparition too was hostile. Ceres in none of her forms pleased them, none of Bacchus' gifts either, neither tasty banquets, nor abundance of good things, not the wealth of cities or of countryside, not any delight, however often they had sought out glittering streams, delightful valleys and gentle breezes on mountain tops. Prayers were showered upon the Gods, incense burned in their temples and their altars were decorated with rich gifts. The Gods heard no prayers nor were moved by gifts.



Anzeiger für die Altertumswissenschaft 45 (1992) 144-7 (Fidel Rädle)

Bibliothèque d'humanisme et renaissance 47 (1985) 242-4 (E. William Monter)

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 64 (1987) 151 (J.S. Cummins): "It is good to have this useful edition with its survey of a social problem especially relevant today."

Bulletin of the History of Medicine (Johns Hopkins University) 59 (1985) 262-4 (John Norris)

Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance Studies 3 (1985) 78-79 (I.D. McFarlane)

Classical Review 35 (1985) 228 (J.W. Binns)

Genitourinary Medicine 61 (1985) 285 (Michael Waugh) - "This work will become part of the essential library of anyone who studies the history of medicine or the history of the sixteenth century."

Gesnerus. Zeitschrift f. Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften 43 (1986) (Gottfried Schramm) - brief.

Giornale filologico ferrarese 7 (1984) 91-93 (Dirk Sacré): "Bene fecit Goffredus Eatough interpres quod poesin illam ad verbum Anglice expressit; quod cum fecit, interpretatio quasi commentarius quidam est factus viris etiam Latine rudibus utilis. Uberrimis in adnotationibus utile dulci mixtum videmus. ... Deinde commentatorem non laudare non possumus quod suis locis attulit quae verba, quos numeros Petrus Bembus et J.C. Scaliger, viri docti, minus probassent, quosve versus paulo immutandos proposuissent. Interiores enim litteras hinc licet introspicere et ipsum artificium poeticum saeculi sexti decimi perspicere. ... His omnibus libri partibus verborum index, machina computatoria generatus, subnexus est; qui quantam utilitatem viris poeseos neolatinae studiosis afferat, nemo est quin videat."

Gymnasium 93 (1986) 400-401 (Heinz Hofmann)

History and Philosophy of Life Sciences 9 (1987) 347 (Loris Premuda)

Isis 76 (1985) 271 (Andrew Cunningham)

Journal of the History of Medicine 40 (1985) 355-6 (Darrel W. Amundsen): "The translation is carefully accurate and readable .... Eatough ... has a respectable grasp on the primary and secondary literature on syphilis and thus provides a very adequate orientation for the reader."

Neo-Latin News 32.4 [Seventeenth-Century News (1985)] 54-5 (Craig Kallendorf) "... this is a fine edition of a fine poem, one worth reading by any serious student of the Renaissance."

Times Literary Supplement (August 31, 1984) (John Scarborough)

Communicationes de Historia Artis Medicinae 107-108 (1984) 195-6 (Kasánszky Zsombor): "A bevezetö tanulmány, a szó szerinti prózai forditás, a gazdag jegyzetanyag (irodalmi, mitológiai, földrajzi, növénytani utalásokkal), valamint a számítógépes szómutató gondozása Geoffrey Eatough-ot dicséri."