Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus
(originally Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim
, also called Theophrastus Paracelsus
and Theophrastus von Hohenheim
). Born at Maria-Einsiedeln
, in the Canton of Schwyz, Switzerland
, Dec. 17 (or 10 Nov.), 1493: died at Salzburg
, Sept. 23 (or 24), 1541. A celebrated German-Swiss physician, reformer of therapeutics, iatrochemist, and alchemist. He attended school in a small lead-mining district where his father, William Bombast von Hohenheim
, was a physician and teacher of alchemy. The family originally came from W, where the noble family of Bombastus was in possession of the ancestral castle of Hohenheim near Stuttgart until 1409. He entered the University of Basel at the age of sixteen, where he adopted the name Paracelsus, after Celsius, a noted Roman physician. But he left without a degree, first going to Wurtzburg to study under Joannes Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim (1462-1516), a famous astrologer and alchemist, who initiated him into the mysteries of alchemy. He then spent many years in travel and intercourse with distinguished scholars, studied and practiced medicine and surgery, and at one point attended the Diet of Worms. He was appointed to the office of city physician of Basel, which also made him a lecturer on medicine at Basel about 1526, where, through the publisher Johan Frobenius he made friends with the scholar Erasmus; and there he fulminated against the medical pseudo-science of his day, and against the blind adherence to ancient medical authorities such as Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna, which was still the prevalent philosophy of medicine in the sixteenth century. But soon, in 1528, he was driven from the city by the medical corporations, whose methods he had severely criticized. He found refuge with friends, and traveled and practiced medicine, but could not find a publisher willing to print his books. He preached frequently the need for experimentation in medicine. He is important in the history of medicine chiefly on account of the impetus which he gave to the development of pharmaceutical chemistry. He was also the author of a visionary and theosophic system of philosophy. The first collective edition of his works appeared at Basel in 1589-91. Among the many legends concerning him is that concerning his long sword, which he obtained while serving as barber-surgeon during the Neapolitan wars. It was rumored that in the hilt of the sword he kept a familiar or small demon; some thought he carried the elixer of life in the sword. He is buried in the cemetary of the Hospital of St. Sebastian in Salzburg. For more detailed information about Paracelsus, there is a special project, the Zurich Paracelsus Project available on the Web. [PJC]
"The apothecaries, too, were enraged against this iconoclast [Paracelsus]. For had he not, as official town physician, demanded the right to inspect their stocks and rule over their prescriptions which he denounced as "foul broths"? These apothecaries had grown fat on the barbarous prescriptions of the local doctors. "The physician's duty is to heal the sick, not to enrich the apothecaries," he had warned them, and refused to send his patients to them to have the prescriptions compounded. He made his own medicines instead, and gave them free to his patients.
. . .
Then they hatched a plot and before long Basel had lost Paracelsus, ostensibly because of the meanness of a wealthy citizen. Paracelsus had sued Canon Lichtenfels for failure to pay him one hundred guldens promised for a cure. The patient had offered only six guldens, and the fiery Paracelsus, when the court deliberately handed in a verdict against him, rebuked it in such terms that his life was in imminent danger. In the dead of night, he was persuaded by his friends to leave secretly the city where he had hurled defiance at the pseudo-medicos of the world.
" Although the theories of Paracelsus as contrasted with the Galeno-Arabic system indicate no advance, inasmuch as they ignore entirely the study of anatomy, still his reputation as a reformer of therapeutics is justified in that he broke new paths in the science. He may be taken as the founder of modern materia medica, and pioneer of scientific chemistry, since before his time medical science received no assistance from alchemy. To Paracelsus is due the use of mercury for syphilis as well as a number of other metallic remedies, probably a result of his studies in Schwaz, and partly his acquaintance with the quicksilver works in Idria."