we’re talking the fomite, y’all

Okay, there are facts and there are suppositions based on facts. It’s a fact that the Renaissance painter Titian (who actual name was Tiziano Vecelli, which takes a lot longer to say) made a portrait (seen below) of Girolamo Fracastoro. It’s also a fact that Fracastoro was a poet, an astronomer, a physician, a geographer, and a mathematician (because back during the Renaissance everybody seemed to do everything). But it’s just supposition that Titian painted this portrait in exchange for Fracastoro (in physician mode) treating him for syphilis.

Girolamo Fracastoro (also known as Hieronymus Fracastorius because everybody in the Renaissance had like half a dozen different names).

You guys, Fracastoro invented syphilis. Not the disease (which apparently came from the Americas, brought back by a crewman on one of Columbus’ ships — I know, irony, right?), but the name of the disease. In 1530 he wrote an epic poem (we’re talking a trilogy — seriously, a three-book poem written (and I am NOT making this up) in dactylic hexameter; when these guys decided to do something, they didn’t fuck around) about a shepherd boy who insulted the god Apollo, who responded the way gods always seem to respond: he gave the boy a horrible disease. That unlucky boy in the poem was named…wait for it, wait for it…Syphilus.

The foul Infection o’er his Body spread
Prophanes his Bosome, and deforms his Head;
His wretched Limbs with filth and stench o’er flow,
While Flesh divides, and shews the Bones below.
Dire Ulcers (can the Gods permit them) prey
On his fair Eye-balls, and devour their Day.

Yikes, right? Three books of this. So many different forms of torture. Anyway, our boy Fracastoro made his bones (so to speak) by treating communicable diseases. He came up with the concept of fomes, which is the plural of fomite.

Syphilus being warned against yielding to temptation (temptation in the form of that chick with the lute — I mean, just look at those ankles).

So you’re probably thinking “Hey, Greg, old sock, what the fuck is a fomite?” Well, I’m going to tell you. And stop calling me ‘old sock’. Actually, I’m going to let Fracastoro his ownself tell you.

“I call fomites such things as clothes, linen, etc., which although not themselves corrupt, can nevertheless foster the essential seeds of the contagion and thus cause infection.”

In other words, he’s talking about the way disease can be spread. Fracastoro was a proponent of the notion that epidemics were caused by “spores” — transferable tiny particles — that could infect people (or animals) by direct or indirect contact, and that was how diseases moved over long distances. This was 300 years or so before folks came up with the idea of germs.

Oh, and fomes? That’s the Latin term for kindling or tinder — the material you gather together in order to start a fire.

Makes sense now, doesn’t it. Now you’re thinking of Covid-19, right? Now you’re thinking of all those anti-bacterial wipes you can’t find on the store shelves. Now you’re thinking about all those doorknobs you touch every day, and about the handrails on stairways and escalators, and about the handle of the coffee pot at work. Now you’re thinking about the table at the diner where you put your cell phone while you eat your salad, and how maybe the person who sat there before you touched an infected doorknob before sitting at that table and left ‘spores’ on the table that are now transferred to the back of your cell phone case, which means it’s now on your hands. And you’re thinking “Lawdy, my cell phone is a goddamned fomite! And that table, a goddamned fomite. And I’m surrounded by goddamned fomes!”

Which is exactly what you should be thinking. All those things you touch during the day? That’s kindling. You spread that kindling, you create a forest fire.

That’s fact, no supposition. Keep Girolamo Fracastoro in mind everywhere you go. I’d suggest you get a tattoo of Fracastoro on your forearm, except the tattoo gun is a goddamned fomite.

Wash your damn hands, people.

2 thoughts on “we’re talking the fomite, y’all

  1. I went to the grocery store to pickup a few items. Everyone had their hands all over the produce (this apple looks better than that one) so I skipped over to get milk. The shelf was empty. No milk nor anything dairy. As I walked past two empty aisles, no toilet paper and no cleaning supplies I saw the last package of cookies wrapped in plastic. Boy it was my lucky day.

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    • Scared people become phenomenally stupid. This isn’t a zombiepocalypse; stores will continue to be restocked, food and other necessities are going to be on the shelves. That said, it IS a good idea to have enough food and supplies to last a couple of weeks, but lawdy a trip to the market will be safe IF folks take sensible precautions there and when they get home.

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