A visionary way ahead of his times
Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus was born Theophrastus Phillipus Bombastus von Hohenheim in Switzerland in 1493.
Those interested in the medicinal properties of plants, especially herbs, and their widespread use in laboratories today, should find this book fascinating and illuminating. Unfortunately, because of his interest in alchemy, astrology and the occult, he was dismissed by many as a charlatan. Others regarded him and still do as a pioneer in the field of herbal medicine. Sadly, many of his works are overlooked today, though many clinics, pharmacies and institutions, particularly in German-speaking countries still proudly bear or display his name and Paracelsus Balsam is a well-known antidote for rheumatic pains.
Philip Ball sets the record straight by looking at this enigmatic physician from both sides of the fence and the result is a brilliant biography.
Snippets from his life:
***Paracelsus was only 14 (some accounts say he was 16) when he started studying medicine at university.
***His field of studies encompassed botany and mineralogy on the one hand and natural philosophy and the occult on the other. His was an open and curious mind in an age when anything out of the ordinary was highly suspect to the establishment. But here he was in good company. Martin Luther, Nicholas Copernicus and Leonardo da Vinci were contemporaries.
***He was a revolutionary in the field of medicine. In his time doctors did not believe in carrying out operations. Many would not even touch a patient. Paracelsus found this ridiculous.
***He lost his positon as Chair of Medicine at the University of Basel after less than a year in the post for being too arrogant and disrespectful to his colleagues. He challenged the establishment and paid the price, not that he cared.
***In an age when it was not easy to travel far and wide, he managed to do so and learn more about the diseases prevalent in, amongst other countries, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Egypt, Arabia and the Holy Land. Wherever he went, he was keen to learn as much as he could from alchemists out there. Indeed, at one time he was a surgeon in the army of the king of Spain.
***He left an unfinished work entitled: 'On the Virtues of Plants, Roots and Seeds' in addition to other published original research.
***He introduced sulphur, opium, mercury, iron and arsenic as new medicines.
***He died in Salzburg in 1541 and in 1752 a monument was erected there to honour him.
A much quoted description of Paracelsus by Ball speaks volumes. He says Paracelsus was "a humble braggart, a puerile sage, invincible loser, courageous coward, pious heretic, honest charlatan, fuelled by profound love and by spiteful hate, dining with the princes and sleeping in the ditch, both personifying and challenging the madness of his world." This quotation alone may be enough to make one want to read more about him in just one volume.