The Life of Paracelsus: Theophrastus von Hohenheim 1493-1541by Anna M. Stoddart
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Paracelsus (born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 11 November or 17 December 1493–24 September 1541) was a German-Swiss Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist. He is also credited for giving zinc its name, calling it zincum, and is regarded as the first systematic botanist.
"Paracelsus", meaning "equal to or greater than Celsus", refers to the Roman encyclopedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus from the 1st century, known for his tract on medicine.
Paracelsus was born and raised in the village of Einsiedeln in Switzerland. His father, Wilhelm Bombast von Hohenheim, was a Swabian (German) chemist and physician; his mother was Swiss, she presumably died in his childhood. In 1502 the family moved to Villach, Carinthia where Paracelsus' father worked as a physician. He received a profound humanistic and theological education by his father, local clerics and the convent school of St. Paul's Abbey in the Lavanttal. 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 in 1515. His wanderings as an itinerant physician and sometime journeyman miner took him through Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Russia.
As a physician of the early 16th century, Paracelsus held a natural affinity with the Hermetic, neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophies central to the Renaissance, a world-view exemplified by Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Paracelsus rejected the magic theories of Agrippa and Flamel in his Archidoxes of Magic. Astrology was a very important part of Paracelsus' medicine, and he was a practicing astrologer—as were many of the university-trained physicians working at this time in Europe. Paracelsus devoted several sections in his writings to the construction of 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. Paracelsus was also responsible for the creation of laudanum, an opium tincture very common until the 19th century.
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 a legal dispute 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 Wundartznei (The Great Surgery Book) was published and enabled him to regain fame. Paracelsus' life is connected to the birth of Lutheranism, and his opinions on the nature of the universe are better understood within the context of the religious ideas circulating during his lifetime.
He died at the age of 48 of natural causes, and his remains were 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 physics, and his therapies became more widely known and used.
His motto was "Alterius non sit qui suus esse potest" which means "Let no man belong to another who can belong to himself."
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