Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus (1493–1541)
Paracelsus was the son of Wilhelm Bombast von Hohenheim, physician at Einsiedeln, in the Swiss canton of Schwyz. He owed his earlier education mainly to his father; went to Basel University at the age of 16, but soon left to study alchemy and chemistry with Trithemius, Bishop of Würzburg; and next at the mines of Tyrol belonging to the Fugger family learned about the physical properties of metals and minerals, and the disposition of rock strata, and began to realize that the observation of nature is more important to the student than academic prelections. Here, and in subsequent wanderings over much of Europe, he amassed a vast store of facts, learned the actual practice of medicine amongst various peoples, but lost all faith in scholastic thought. He became well known as a medical practitioner, and on his return to Basel in 1526 was appointed town physician. He also lectured on medicine at the university, but defied academic tradition not merely by lecturing in German (not Latin), but by disputing the teachings of Galen and Avicenna.
Bitterness, backbiting, and enmity soon arose and followed him throughout the rest of his life, aggravated and justified in part by his own vanity, arrogance, and aggressiveness. A dispute with the magistrates in 1528 led to his leaving Basel; he then wandered for more than a dozen years, visiting Colmar, Nuremberg, Zurich, Augsburg, and many other towns, but seldom staying anywhere more than a few months, and at last settled in 1541 under the protection of the archbishop of Salzburg. But he died in the same year – murdered by his enemies, said his friends; as a result of a drunken debauch, said his enemies.
Bronowski on ParacelsusFrom The Ascent of Man, pp 141-142:
He was a perpetual challenge to everything that was academic: for example, he was the first man to recognize an industrial disease. There are both grotesque and endearing episodes in the undaunted, lifelong battle Paracelsus fought with the oldest tradition of his time, the practice of medicine. His head was a perpetual fountain of theories, many of them contradictory, and most of them outrageous. He was a Rabelaisian, picaresque, wild character, drank with students, ran after women, traveled much of the Old World, and until recently, figured in the histories of science as a quack. But that he was not. He was a man of divided but profound genius.
Related category• PHYSICIANS, SURGEONS, AND ANATOMISTS
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