Biography of Famous Scientist and Doctor Paracelsus Part 1

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


Paracelsus, (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim)


Paracelsus was one of the oddest and most influential individuals of the Renaissance. Delicately christened Theophrastus Bombastus in Switzerland in 1493, the boy suffered from rickets during much of his childhood and was permanently deformed by the disease. His grandfather had been illegitimate, his father a poor doctor, and his mother a bondswoman in a Benedictine abbey. She was also a manicdepressive, and while her son was still a child, she jumped from Devil's Bridge to her death in the river below. Perhaps this background caused Paracelsus's lifelong eccentric behavior, which limited his acceptance as a medical genius.

Soon after his mother's death, Theophrastus moved with his father to an Austrian mining town run by the Fugger family. There he picked up some knowledge of minerals and chemistry. At 15, he embarked upon the migratory life of a student, wandering from university to university all over Europe, presumably being awarded a medical diploma in Italy (the records have been lost). When he was 17, his arrogance moved him to rename himself Paracelsus, meaning that he surpassed Celsus, the renowned ancient Roman physician.

During his lifetime, Paracelsus taught at several major medical schools and earned a great reputation as a healer, but often he forfeited all of his belongings and fled a city in the dead of night. In a century when surgeons were also barbers, he practiced only surgery and medicine. At the university in Basel, he refused to take the oath required of teachers, failed to submit qualifying documents, and insisted on lecturing in German instead of Latin. Once, at a student demonstration on St. John's Day (June 24), he was involved in a book-burning incident; he destroyed one of the standard medical books of the time. Midwifery was then considered to be below a doctor's dignity, but Paracelsus proudly delivered babies. He often ministered to the poor without charge, but alienated the powerful by demanding exorbitant fees from them.

For many years, he never took off a giant sword he wore--not even when he slept. In its hollow pommel he stored laudanum, his great pharmaceutical discovery (opium is its chief ingredient), and never used the sword for any other purpose. Paracelsus wore expensive clothes, but he wouldn't change them until they stank; consequently he could never find anyone who wanted his castoffs, despite their costliness. He would throw himself on his bed and sleep three hours--with his boots and spurs on--then get up in the middle of the night to dictate notes on medicine to his secretary. "Up to his 25th year, I believe he never touched wine. Later on, he learned how to drink and even challenged an inn full of peasants... and drank them under the table, now and then putting his finger in his mouth like a swine," wrote his amanuensis.

His dealings with women were more controlled; it is thought that he never had sexual intercourse. He advocated chastity and once declared that it was better to be a castrate than an adulterer. There are stories that Paracelsus was a castrate (in one account a wild boar deprived him of his manhood, in another drunken soldiers performed the awful operation), but this is not likely. Portraits of Paracelsus show him as being obese, beardless, and bald.

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