Sunday, November 11, 2012

Paracelsus - a Typical Renaissance Scientist

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.

Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim was born in Switzerland in times of upheaval. Columbus had just arrived the New World with the Santa Maria, Nikolaus Copernicus was (a few years later) about to cause a an uproar with his heliocentric theory and Martin Luther was to revolutionize the Christian believes and regulations. Medieval ideas came to an end and the Renaissance with all of its famous inventions, discoveries and arts began. It was a good time period for Paracelsus to be born in, being truly an innovator himself.

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, Paracelsus 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, Paracelsus 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.

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."

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.

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

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