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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.
Additional recommended knowledge
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.
His wanderings as an itinerant physician and sometime journeyman miner  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:
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.
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
Selected English translations
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
|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.|