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Biography of Famous Scientist and Doctor Paracelsus Part 2

About the famous scientist and doctor Paracelsus, history and biography of the eccentric pioneer in medicine.

GALLERY OF FAMOUS AND INFAMOUS SCIENTISTS

Paracelsus, (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim)

(1493?-1541)

When Paracelsus was invited to visit a new town in any of half a dozen European countries, his habit was to establish an impressive reputation as a lecturer and physician and then, inevitably, grossly offend the powers that prevailed. At the time, doctors had the right to ride on horseback, preceded by a valet, and to wear fur as well as a red robe. They were admitted to the patrician guilds. But this life was not for Paracelsus. He wandered for a while as a lay preacher, dressed in beggar's garb. And on one occasion, he appeared before a group in his professor's robe, then flung it off contemptuously and lectured wearing the sooty apron of the alchemist.

"The universities do not teach all things, so a doctor must seek out old wives, gypsies, sorcerers, wandering tribes, old robbers, and such outlaws and take lessons from them... knowledge is experience." Paracelsus's emphasis on direct experience and his renunciation of book learning earned him many enemies. He said Luther and the pope were like "two whores discussing chastity."

He was known to use hypnosis as a treatment, claiming that the mind produced diseases both in itself and in the body. He revived lore that had been suppressed as heresy or kept alive by alchemists, astrologers, and "prohibited artists." In his hands it became scientific. He was the first to identify silicosis and tuberculosis as occupational hazards and the first to recognize the congenital form of syphilis and to distinguish it from postpartum infection. He discovered that the mineral content in drinking water could prevent goiter and recognized the connection between the thyroid and cretinism. He was the first to postulate that dosages should be measured, and that strict controls should be placed on the use of chemicals. He emphasized internal medicine, whereas chemicals had previously been used externally for the most part. He paved the way to an understanding that chemical compounds are distinguished by their elemental composition. He applied homeopathic plant remedies, sometimes selecting a plant because it looked like the affected organ (e.g., the orchid for the testicle). "Stop making gold. Instead find medicines," he told the alchemists.

Paracelsus returned home in 1538 to learn that his father had died four years before. He was called to Salzburg a few years later, where he died. His grave site in the almshouse of St. Sebastian was a place of pilgrimage for the sick for a long time thereafter. He probably died of cancer or metal poisoning, though there are stories that he was murdered by assassins.

Paracelsus was intent on testing all reported observations. His views encompassed both astrological superstitions and modern concepts of disease. In 1882, the roof of his house in Switzerland was found to be covered with astrological signs and cabalistic characters.

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