His real name was born Theophrastus von Hohenheim, but he is always referred to by his nom de plume, Paracelsus. He is important in the history of medicine because as a physician he established the role of chemistry in medicine. This is not as odd as it appears, as his father was a teacher of chemistry at the Augsburg university and a bishop of Lavant in the Catholic Church too. What was brilliant was his application of chemistry to medicine — that is applying chemical cures to bodily ills.

Yet he upset the traditional attitudes of Schoolmen. This was probably intentional . It is an old saw that no one makes a name for himself following in other footsteps, and Paracelsus was superb at knocking everyone and everything while putting himself as the great authority, and to that effect like Luther, who was a contemporary, he burnt the books of Avicenna and Galen.

“The universities do not teach all things,” he wrote, “so a doctor must seek out old wives, gypsies, sorcerers, wandering tribes, old robbers, and such outlaws and take lessons from them. A doctor must be a traveler.… Knowledge is experience.”

Paracelsus

Despite that comment, he did not believe in experimentation, which put him at odds with the nascent scientific method evolving elsewhere in Europe. Instead, he advocated mysticism and the occult.

Homeopathy forerunner

He was the first to declare that, if given in small doses, “what makes a man ill also cures him”—an anticipation of the modern practice of homeopathy and he made a great fortune in his cures using specific mixtures of copper, sulfur, and mercury. As there were no pills at the time, this is a rather modern invention, Paracelsus applied everything via a shot, or needle, which he purified via fire.

His masterpeice Der grossen Wundartzney (Great Surgery Book) published in 1536 is the first clinical description of syphilis but Paracelsus rejected the study of anatomy and considered immaterial to his work.

Philosophical Medicine

The data. as mentioned previously, is from Walter Pagel’s book Paracelsus, An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance, 2nd revised edition, published S. Karger AG Basel Switzerland c. 1982.

I have made no changes to Pagel’s findings. BTW, it’s a good book and worth reading.

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