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Paracelsus (11 November or 17 December 1493 in Einsiedeln, Switzerland – 24 September 1541) was an alchemist, physician, astrologer, and general occultist. Born Phillip von Hohenheim, he later took up the name Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, and still later took the title Paracelsus, meaning "equal to or greater than Celsus", a Roman encyclopedist from the first century known for his tract on medicine.[1]



Paracelsus was born and raised in the village of Maria Einsiedeln in Switzerland. His father, Wilhelm Bombast von Hohenheim, was a Swabian chemist and physician; his mother was Swiss. As a youth he worked in nearby mines as an analyst. At the age of 16 he started studying medicine at the University of Basel, later moving to Vienna. He gained his doctorate degree from the University of Ferrara.[2]

His wanderings as an itinerant physician and sometime journeyman miner [3] took him through Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia.


Paracelsus rejected Gnostic traditions, but kept much of the Hermetic, neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophies from Ficino and Pico della Mirandola; however, Hermetical science had so much Aristotelian theory that his rejection of Gnosticism was practically meaningless. In particular, Paracelsus rejected the magic theories of Agrippa and Flamel; Paracelsus did not think of himself as a magician and scorned those who did, though he was a practicing astrologer, as were most, if not all of the university-trained physicians working at this time in Europe. Astrology was a very important part of Paracelsus' medicine. In his Archidoxes of Magic Paracelsus devoted several sections to astrological talismans for curing disease, providing talismans for various maladies as well as talismans for each sign of the Zodiac. He also invented an alphabet called the Alphabet of the Magi, for engraving angelic names upon talismans.

Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. He used the name "zink" for the element zinc in about 1526, based on the sharp pointed appearance of its crystals after smelting and the old German word "zinke" for pointed. He used experimentation in learning about the human body. His hermetical views were that sickness and health in the body relied on the harmony of man, the microcosm, and Nature, the macrocosm. He took an approach different from those before him, using this analogy not in the manner of soul-purification but in the manner that humans must have certain balances of minerals in their bodies, and that certain illnesses of the body had chemical remedies that could cure them. (Debus & Multhauf, p.6-12)

He summarized his own views: "Many have said of Alchemy, that it is for the making of gold and silver. For me such is not the aim, but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines." (Edwardes, p.47) (also in: Holmyard, Eric John. Alchemy. p. 170)

Paracelsus gained a reputation for being arrogant, and soon garnered the anger of other physicians in Europe. He held the chair of medicine at the University of Basel for less than a year; while there his colleagues became angered by allegations that he had publicly burned traditional medical books. He was forced from the city after having legal trouble over a physician's fee he sued to collect.

He then wandered Europe, Africa and Asia Minor, in the pursuit of hidden knowledge. He revised old manuscripts and wrote new ones, but had trouble finding publishers. In 1536, his Die grosse Wundartzney (The Great Surgery Book) was published and enabled him to regain fame.

He died in 1541 in Salzburg, and was buried according to his wishes in the cemetery at the church of St Sebastian in Salzburg. His remains are now located in a tomb in the porch of the church.

After his death, the movement of Paracelsianism was seized upon by many wishing to subvert the traditional Galenic physick- and thus did his therapies become more widely known and used.

His motto was "alterius non sit qui suus esse potest" which means "let no man that can belong to himself be of another"

Contributions to toxicology


Paracelsus, sometimes called the father of toxicology, wrote:

German: Alle Ding' sind Gift und nichts ohn' Gift; allein die Dosis macht, dass ein Ding kein Gift ist.
"All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous."

That is to say, substances often considered toxic can be benign or beneficial in small doses, and conversely an ordinarily benign substance like water can be deadly if over-consumed.[4]

He wrote the major work On the Miners' Sickness and Other Diseases of Miners documenting the occupational hazards of metalworking including treatment and prevention strategies. He also wrote a book on the human body contradicting Galen's ideas.

Galen put forward the theory that illness was caused by an imbalance of the four humours: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. He recommended specific diets to help in the "cleansing of the putrefied juices" and often purging and bloodletting would be used. This theory was accepted until challenged by Paracelsus who believed that illness was the result of the body being attacked by outside agents.

Legend and rumour

Paracelsus is often cited as coining the phrase "the dose makes the poison". Although he did not say this precisely, it seems that Paracelsus was indeed well aware of the principle (see discussion on Toxicology above).

Many books mentioning Paracelsus also cite him as the origin of "bombastic" to describe his often arrogant speaking style. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the origin of the word "bombastic" is not a play on Paracelsus's middle name, Bombastus. Instead, that dictionary cites "bombast": an old term for cotton stuffing.


Published during his lifetime

  • Die große WundarzneyUlm, 1536 (Hans Varnier); Augsburg (Haynrich Stayner (=Steyner)), 1536; Frankfurt/ M. (Georg Raben/ Weygand Hanen), 1536.
  • Vom Holz Guaico, 1529.
  • Vonn dem Bad Pfeffers in Oberschwytz gelegen, 1535.
  • Prognostications, 1536.

Posthumous Publications

  • Wundt unnd Leibartznei. Frankfurt/ M., 1549 (Christian Egenolff); 1555 (Christian Egenolff); 1561 (Chr. Egenolff Erben).
  • Von der Wundartzney: Ph. Theophrasti von Hohenheim, beyder Artzney Doctoris, 4 Bücher. (Peter Perna), 1577.
  • Kleine Wundartzney. Basel (Peter Perna), 1579.
  • Opus Chirurgicum, Bodenstein, Basel, 1581.
  • Huser quart edition (medicinal and philosophical treatises), Basel, 1589.
  • Chirurgical works (Huser), Basel, 1591 und 1605 (Zetzner).
  • Straßburg edition (medicinal and philosophical treatises), 1603.
  • Kleine Wund-Artzney. Straßburg (Ledertz) 1608.
  • Opera omnia medico-chemico-chirurgica, Genevae, Vol3, 1658.
  • Philosophia magna, tractus aliquot, Cöln, 1567.
  • Philosophiae et Medicinae utriusque compendium, Basel, 1568.
  • Liber de Nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus

Selected English translations

  • The Hermetic And Alchemical Writings Of Paracelsus, Two Volumes, translated by Arthur Edward Waite, London, 1894. Partial contents: Coelum Philosophorum; The Book Concerning The Tincture Of The Philosophers; The Treasure of Treasures for Alchemists; The Aurora of the Philosophers; Alchemical Catechism.
  • The Archidoxes of Magic by Theophrastus Paracelsus, translated by Robert Turner. Facsimile reprint of the 1656 edition with introduction by Stephen Skinner, Ibis Publishing, 2004.

Online bibliographies

  • Digital library, University of Braunschweig
  • Zürich Paracelsus Project
  • collection of online editions of Latin works, Analytic Bibliography of Online Neo-Latin Texts

Quotes of Paracelsus

(Translations by David Gelsinger, 2003/2004)

“Place no suspicion against another, rather allow the end of everything to display.”

“The eyes do not become used, the foot still less”

“Blessed is he who does not sit on the stool of pestilence, and resides not with sinners, because they become afflicted.”

“Handle nothing without correct, thorough fundamentals.”

“Through your conversation, allow itself to build hospitals, or for the sick to pay in another way.”

“The sick would be no poison & no accident from God.”

“Misery makes the quarrel and wretchedness in this world.”

“That was however up until now, a great damage, which didn’t become learned until the end, and everytime, one became master, before the pupil was grown up. There women stood up to make the named master; there medicine came in the wretchedness.”

“In the meantime, I benefit the sick, and have sought to serve each and everyone of them truly.”

“I have a difference between myself and the supposeds.”

“May I want nothing sooner or lesser to drink, than wine with friends.”

“I like to talk unthoroughly and rather nonsensical.”

“In the meantime, there would be three things which attack and control the entire art of medicine: namely the body, the sickness, and the medicine which may help one.”

Paracelsus in modern culture

  • Paracelsus appears in Soulcalibur Legends
  • Paracelsus is the title of a 1943 film by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. [2]
  • Paracelsus is a lengthy dramatic poem by Robert Browning.
  • Paracelsus and The Rose is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges.
  • Paracelsus is one of the people featured on a Chocolate Frog card in the Harry Potter series. A bust of Paracelsus is also present in the castle at Hogwarts, near Gryffindor, between the entrance to the Gryffindor common room and the Owlry, as mentioned in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
  • In the anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the father of Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric is called Hohenheim of Light. Having succeeded in his alchemical researches, he and his former lover, Dante, have achieved a costly pseudo-immortality, one of the traditional goals of alchemists, by using the legendary alchemical amplifier, the Philosopher's Stone, whose creation was another goal for alchemists. Hohenheim also created the first ever homunculus (400 years before the series takes place). Because he is an alchemist who has lived since medieval times, it's possible that Hohenheim is actually Paracelsus.
  • In the manga version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the same character is called Van Hohenheim. He is the doppelganger of the manga's villain, known as 'Father,' and refers to himself both as 'an alchemist' and 'a monster.' It is revealed he was nearly named Theophrastus Bombastus Van Hohenheim, after a part of Paracelsus's name.
  • Paracelsus was the name used by the burn-scarred and masked nemesis and former ally of Father in the CBS television series Beauty and the Beast. He was portrayed by Tony Jay.
  • In Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, the Paracelsus Table creates homunculi to make mock battles, used for the mini-game for characters to fight one another.
  • In the Phantom comic strip, Paracelsus appeared in a story by Ulf Granberg and Jaime Vallvé from 1977 entitled The Ring. According to this story, it was Paracelsus who gave the first Phantom the Skull Ring.
  • In the Guilty Gear video games, the character A.B.A uses a key-shaped ax named Paracelsus as a weapon.
  • At the end of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Jill Valentine discovers what appears to be a railgun of sorts in a deserted factory. Named Paracelsus's Sword, the weapon was designed by the U.S. government for the express purpose of destroying the most dangerous of the Umbrella Corporation's bio-organic weapons.
  • In the book Esbae: A Winter's Tale, by Linda Haldeman, Professor Leo Ernst is a college professor teaching a Western Civilization class. While lecturing about witchcraft, sorcery, and magic in the Middle Ages, he briefly covers Paracelsus, including the fact that his real name was "Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim! Now there's a name to conjure with." Later in the book, Chuck Holmes, unable to remember the proper incantations, uses the name to summon the demon Asmodeus.
  • The DC Comics comic book The Human Race features a villain named Paracelsus who employs genetic engineering techniques.
  • The Bruce Coville A.I. Gang trilogy includes a faux-AI chatterbot named Paracelsus, which is encased in the head of a Greek statue.
  • "Paracelsus" is the title of a musical composition that was written by Mont Campbelland performed by the "Canterbury" jazzrock-band National Health in 1976. An excerpt appears on the NH compilation "Complete."
  • Paracelsus appears as the villain in Peter David's 2006 Arthurian fantasy novel, Fall of Knight, in which he is depicted as both an alchemist and magician (despite his historical antipathy toward magic) who gained immortality, and like King Arthur, appears in the modern day world, having acquired the Spear of Destiny from the Nazis in 1945, and who tries to acquire the Holy Grail from Arthur in the early 21st century.
  • Paracelsus appears in the visual novel Animamundi: Dark Alchemist as a legendary figure who was thought to have succeeded in creating the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life. He helps the main character throughout the game, disguised as a young boy.
  • Professor Bulwer in the 1922 Murnau film Nosferatu is a follower of Paracelsus.
  • Paracelsus is mentioned as an inspiration to Victor Frankenstein, the main character in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
  • Paracelsus appears in the Japanese release of Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny. (In the U.S., he is known as Palaxius).
  • In the DC comic book series The Sandman, one of the characters, a writer named Richard Madoc, puts forth the idea of writing a story about Paracelsus and Raymond Lulli being the same person. This is, of course, impossible, given that they lived a century or more apart.
  • "Paracelsus" is referenced at the beginning of Operator's Side, a voice-controlled game for PS2.


  1. ^ Read, J. Through Alchemy to Chemistry. Bell and Sons; London; 1961
  2. ^ [1] A historical essay and travelogue on Paracelsus
  3. ^ Conner, Clifford D., A Peoples History of Science, Nation Books 2005 ISBN 1-56025748-2, p. 306
  4. ^ January 26, 2007: Dr. Adrian Cohen was saddened, but not surprised, to hear about the 28-year-old woman who died earlier this month after drinking nearly two gallons of water to try to win a radio station contest. (WashTimes)

NAME Paracelsus
ALTERNATIVE NAMES von Hohenheim, Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus
SHORT DESCRIPTION physician, occultist
DATE OF BIRTH 11 November or 17 December 1493
PLACE OF BIRTH Einsiedeln, Switzerland
DATE OF DEATH 24 September 1541
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Paracelsus". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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