(Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim)

1493 - 1541

Portrait of ParacelsusParacelsus was a Swiss alchemist, physician, and astrologer. His full name was Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim. He renamed himself Paracelsus, a name that meant beyond Celsus.

Paracelsus studied alchemy and chemistry at Basel University in Switzerland, and learned about metals and minerals and mining diseases in the mines in the Tirol. He travelled through Europe, Russia and the Middle East (1510-1524) studing how others practiced medicine. In 1526 he became the town physician in Basel and lectured at the university.

He was one of the first to criticize Galen’s doctrines. He countered Galen’s humor theory of disease and substituted for it a chemical approach. He brought to Europe what he learned from the medieval Islamic alchemists. He was the first to describe silicosis and the first to connect the occurrence of a goiter with the minerals found in drinking water. He found that wounds would heal themselves if allowed to drain thereby countering Galenic theory and the practice of cauterizing wounds. He also discovered the relationships between head wounds and paralysis.

Paracelsus, unlike Galen, regarded the heart as the seat of the soul, and theorized that that spirits from the heart passed to the brain permitting reason.

Paracelsus is credited with the introduction of opium and mercury into the arsenal of medicine. His works also indicate an advanced knowledge of the science and principles of magnetism. He improved pharmacy and therapeutics and established the role of chemistry in medicine.

Among Paracelsus’s findings were that defects of speech could occur in the absence of paralysis (Benton & Joynt, 1960).

Writings about Paracelsus

Benton, A. & Joynt, R. (1960). Early descriptions of aphasia. Archives of Neurology, 3, 205-222.

Debus, A. (1993) Paracelsus and the medical revolution of the renaissance. Bethesda, MD: Friends of the National Library of Medicine, Inc.

Retrieved on May 11, 2010.

Pagel, Walter (1982). Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (2nd edition). Basel: Karger