Santorio, the doctor who invented the thermometer to measure the temperature of the sick

VENICE – The invention of the thermometer is generally attributed to him: he was certainly the first doctor in history to use it on sick people, in order to measure their fever. He guessed and was the first to measure the loss of fluids from the body through perspiration. He invented the speedometer and radically rejected the application of astrology in medicine. Not by chance Santorio Santorio is considered the father of modern physiology, and various instruments that he studied and developed between the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century are still in use today.

In addition to this, he was a philosopher and an experimenter – in particular of the study of the structure of matter – coming to anticipate the research of Descartes and Galileo: of the latter in particular he preceded the experiments on pendulums, adapting them to medical practice. But in Venice he was also very close friends with Paolo Sarpi and Giovanfrancesco Sagredo, who was very close to Galileo.

Born in Koper on March 29, 1561, to Antonio Santorio, a native of Spilimbergo, and the Koper Elisabetta Cordonia, he soon moved to Venice with his brother Isidoro (his father was supermassar of ammunition for the Serenissima), leaving his sisters Piana and Franceschina in Koper. , who got married and spent their lives there. He studied together with Andrea Morosini (from whose family the Santoros enjoyed esteem and protection) and received an excellent humanistic education. He landed at the University of Padua in 1575 to study philosophy and medicine, graduating in 1582. Among the companions of the Paduan period with whom he made lasting friends was Nicolò Contarini, destined to become doge in 1630.

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For several years, until 1599, he practiced the medical profession between Croatia, Hungary and – perhaps – Poland. It was in this period that he began to take an interest in physiological experimentation, but it was only once he returned to Venice that his talent exploded: in 1611 he was appointed professor of Theoretical Medicine in Padua. Here he was the first to quantify the “perspiratio insensibilis”, or the loss of fluids from the body through perspiration, and introduced in medicine the use of the clinical thermometer, which he himself devised. He also invented other instruments (the pulsilogio for measuring the pulse, the hygrometer, the “artificial bed”, the “medical eolopila”, the “lunar thermometer”) all aimed at determining human vital parameters with mathematical accuracy. There were also famous works such as the “De statica medica”, dated 1614, a copy of which also belonged to Galileo.

In Venice he frequented the group of proudly anticurial intellectual patricians who referred to Fra Paolo Sarpi, and who became protagonists in the management of the interdict of 1606. It was he, as a doctor of the Serviti convent, who gave the first care to Sarpi, stabbed on the bridge of Santa Fosca by assassins sent from Rome, on 5 October 1607. He also assisted him in the final stages of his illness, in 1623. In 1616 he was called to preside over the College established by the Senate of the Serenissima for the purpose of confer a degree on those who were not of the Catholic faith (such as Protestants and Jews).

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But soon the political climate changed and the philocurial component took more space: Santorio was accused of lack of diligence in university teaching, an accusation from which he was acquitted in February 1624; that same year, however, he had to give up the professorship (while maintaining his salary), and retired to private life in Venice, where he lived in the parish of San Marcuola and continued to exercise the medical profession with authority. In August 1630 he was consulted by the Senate of the Serenissima on the first signs of contagion: in agreement with the majority of the doctors interviewed, he expressed his negative opinion on the fact that the current one could be considered a “real plague”. The facts denied him in a sensational and tragic way. He survived the disease and died the city six years later, on February 22, 1636. He was buried in the portico of the church of the Servants, which no longer exists.

Last updated: 18:43

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