Depending upon the source, the birth of Girolamo Fracastoro (who signed himself Hieronymous Fracastorius in his Latin writings) can be traced to 1478, 1482, 1483, or 1484. There is no controversy, however, concerning his origin. He was born into a very ancient and honorable patrician family, the son of Paolo Philippo and Camilla dei Mascarelli, of a wellborn family of Vicenza. An esteemed ancestor, Aventino Fracastoro, was a celebrated physician of Scala and a gentleman of Verona; he died in 1368, and his tomb in the Church of San Fermo must have been a constant reminder to the young Girolamo of his noble lineage.
Two oddities regarding Fracastoro’s birth and early years have been noted by numerous biographers. At birth, his lips were so tightly sealed that a surgeon’s knife was required to separate them. Julius Caesarus Scaliger referred to the event in one of the twenty-seven epigrams in his Altars in Honor of Fracastoro (1554), relating that the god of medicine and poetry, Apollo himself, intervened at Fracastoro’s birth to create a mouth for the poet. The other extraordinary event was the death of his mother (some say his nurse), who was struck and killed by lightning while holding the young Fracastoro in her arms. There is no further record of the effects of these events upon the young poet. Reports agree, however, that his intellect was early noted and that no expense was spared regarding his education.
Fracastoro entered the University of Padua as an adolescent and exhibited a desire to master every science that occupied his attention, demonstrating a singularly advanced proficiency in mathematics. In addition, he studied literature, astronomy (astrology at that time), medicine, and philosophy, the last with Nicolo Leonico Tomeo and Pietro Pomponazzi. Pomponazzi was a tutor in Aristotle, Averroës, and Alexander of Aphrodisias, and received considerable attention for a paper he wrote which was incorrectly interpreted as calling into question the immortality of the soul.
Upon receiving his degree in 1502, Fracastoro became an instructor in logic and also served as conciliarius anatomicus, giving lectures on medicine and anatomy. It was at this time that he met a young medical student named Nicholas Copernicus. Other colleagues and acquaintances who were to play roles in his literary activities were Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III), Gaspar Contarenus and Ercole Gonzaga (later made cardinals), Giovanni Matteo Giberti (subsequently Bishop of Verona), Pietro Bembo (dedicatee of his most significant work of poetry...
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