Paracelsus – a Typical Renaissance Scientist

Paracelsus (1493-1541)

Paracelsus (1493-1541)

On November 11, 1493, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus, the famous Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist was born.

All is interrelated. Heaven and earth, air and water. All are but one thing; not four, not two and not three, but one. Where they are not together, there is only an incomplete piece.”
– Paracelsus – Collected Writings Vol. I (1926) edited by Bernhard Aschner, p. 110

Background and Career

Through his father, who was a physician and chemist himself, Paracelsus gained his interest in medicine and alchemy, which he began studying at the University of Basel with 16. After being a well known physician on Basel, he traveled through Europe, curiously researching on the bubonic plague, practicing his medicine and collecting knowledge. He soon practiced astrology, which became a main part of his medicine and was one of the first to use minerals and chemicals for therapy. Through these practices, he got to name the element zinc and was responsible for the creation of laudanum. But even though, he could make up a good reputation as a physician, he got in trouble for his strange character quite often. He was known to be  arrogant and pretty much angered everyone in the European community after openly burning traditional medical books.

Copperplate Depiction of Paracelsus

Copperplate Depiction of Paracelsus

Despite Paracelsus’ extraordinary character traits, he was valued for his many contributions to society including the distribution of the theory that our cosmos is based on the ‘tria prima‘ mercury, sulfur, and salt, which also defined the identities of humans. He was convinced, that a person’s health depends on the harmony of man and nature. In his views, the universe was one organism, influenced by a spirit, which put man and God on the same level. You may be right, assuming that the Church did not appreciate these theories and initiated many debates about Paracelsus’ ideas. Paracelsus was not only known to be the ‘Luther of Medicine’, but also the ‘Father of Toxicology’ and once said that “all things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.

Impact

Paracelsus was a remarkably self confident man, who polarized his field of research with these new techniques and methods. However, he was able to fascinate the Europeans and was mentioned by numerous poets like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or Thomas Mann. Due to the many myths that have developed around him, it is hard to distinguish true stories from fairy-tales.

He questioned the then usual humoral pathology. With his medical interpretation of alchemy, which he called spagyric, he believed he had found the right way to medicine. In his archidoxies of 1526 he manifested his theses for the first time. After his death, the archidoxia formed the basis for the development of chemical medicine.

At yovisto academic video search you may enjoy the lecture ‘Classical Views of Disease: Hippocrates, Galen, and Humoralism‘ by Frank Snowden at Yale University.

References and Further Reading:

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One comment

  • Actually, a comment on twitter by @rmathematicus made me think and I decided that you definitely should be aware of the fact that date of births, esp. for Renaissance people, sometimes are more or less considered to be whishful thinking than fact, simply because birthdays were not as popular as today in the Renaissance epoch and registration records for bith or baptism were rare these days. Read more about in “Not a birthday boy: some thoughts on Renaissance birth dates

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