Paracelsus ( born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 11 November or 17 December 1493 – 24 September 1541) was a Swiss German Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist. He founded the discipline of Toxicology. He is also known as a revolutionary for insisting upon using observations of nature, rather than looking to ancient texts, in open and radical defiance of medical practice of his day. He is also credited for giving zinc its name, calling it zincum. Modern psychology often also credits him for being the first to note that some diseases are rooted in psychological illness.
Paracelsus' most important legacy is likely his critique of the scholastic methods in medicine, science and theology. Although these faculties did not exist separate from each other during his time, his attitudes towards the uncritical copy of the teachings of the old Fathers of Medicine, such as Avicenna and Averroes, without categorically denying their obvious merits, was his first and foremost achievement for independent and empirical approaches to research and teaching. Much of his theoretical work does not withstand modern scientific thought, but his insights laid the foundation for a more dynamic approach in the medical sciences.
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. 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 or 1516.
His wanderings as an itinerant physician and sometime journeyman miner took him through Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Poland 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 Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Nicolas 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. It is said that Paracelsus was also responsible for the creation of laudanum, an opium tincture very common until the 19th century. As a physician and medical chemist at the time, he also sharply criticised apothecary practices that were often not applied in a dosage correct manner. From the study of his texts, he was an advocate and critic of the common use of guaiac wood and hellebore.
His travelings to Africa and Asia Minor in the pursuit of hidden knowledge are speculative. 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. Paracelsus was one of the first medical professors to recognize that physicians required a solid academic knowledge in the natural sciences, especially chemistry. Furthermore, he allowed for the access of medical academic work to learned people. Surgeons for example often were not academically trained and ranked with the barbers and butchers in the same guild. He died at the age of 47 in Salzburg. 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."
Paracelsus adopted the idea of triparite alternatives to explain the nature of medicine, taking the place of a combustable element (sulphur) a fluid and changeable element (mercury) and a solid, permanent element (salt.) The first mention of the mercury, sulphur, salt model was in the Opus paramirum dating to about 1530 Paracelsus believed that the principles sulphur, mercury, and salt contained the poisons contributing to all diseases.
He saw each disease as having three separate cures depending on how it was afflicted, either being caused by the poisoning of sulphur, mercury, or salt. Paracelsus drew the importance of sulphur, salt and mercury from medieval alchemy, where they all occupied a prominent place. He demonstrated his theory by burning a piece of wood. the fire was the work of sulphur, the smoke was mercury, and the residual ash was salt. Paracelsus theorized that materials that are poisonous in large doses may be positive in small doses, he demonstrated this with the examples of magnetism and static electricity, where a small magnet can attract much larger metals.
Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. His hermetical views were that sickness and health in the body relied on the harmony of man (microcosm) and Nature (macrocosm). One of his most overlooked achievements was the systematic study of minerals and the curative powers of alpine mineral springs. Paracelsus is credited as providing the first clinical/scientific mention of the unconscious. In his work Von den Krankeiten he writes: "Thus, the cause of the disease chorea lasciva is a mere opinion and idea, assumed by imagination, affecting those who believe in such a thing.
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