Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus

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Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus

(fĭlĭp`əs ôrēō`ləs părəsĕl`səs), 1493?–1541, Swiss physician and alchemist. His original name Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. He traveled widely, acquiring knowledge of alchemy, chemistry, and metallurgy, and although his egotism and his contempt for traditional theories earned him the enmity of his learned contemporaries, he gained wide popularity among the people (he lectured and wrote in German rather than Latin) and had great influence in his own and succeeding centuries. In Salzburg, where he died, a statue was erected to him in 1752.

His thought was colored by the fantastic philosophies of his time and he based his medical theories on the concept of human beings as microcosms of the universe. He was firmly opposed to the humoral theory of disease championed by GalenGalen
, c.130–c.200, physician and writer, b. Pergamum, of Greek parents. After study in Greece and Asia Minor and at Alexandria, he returned to Pergamum, where he served as physician to the gladiatorial school. He resided chiefly in Rome from c.162.
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, and he advocated the use of specific remedies for specific diseases, introducing many chemicals (e.g., laudanum, mercury, sulfur, iron, and arsenic) into use as medicines. He also noted relationships such as the hereditary pattern in syphilis and the association of cretinism with endemic goiter and of paralysis with head injuries. Paracelsus wrote numerous medical and occult works containing a curious mixture of sound observation and mystical jargon. His work On Diseases of Miners was the first study devoted to an occupational disease.


See Four Treatises of Theophrastus von Hohenheim (ed. by H. E. Sigerist, 1941); biographies by W. Pagel (2d ed. 1982) and C. Webster (2008).

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Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus


(pseudonym of Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim). Born 1493, in Ein-siedeln (Canton Schwyz), Switzerland; died Sept. 24, 1541, in Salzburg. Renaissance physician; “world’s first professor of chemistry,” according to A. I. Herzen.

Paracelsus was educated in Ferrara, Italy. About 1515 he became a physician, and in 1526 he was named professor at the University of Basel and municipal physician for that city. He traveled widely throughout Europe. He was a strong opponent of scholastic medicine and the blind respect shown at the time for the authority of Galen; in their stead he promoted scientific observation and experimentation. Paracelsus rejected the ancient theory of the four humors of the human body and believed that all processes in the body are chemical. He studied the therapeutic action of various chemical elements and compounds. By bringing chemistry closer to medicine, Paracelsus was one of the founders of iatrochemistry. He isolated drugs from plants to make tinctures, extracts, and elixirs. He developed the concept of drug dosage, which was new at the time, and used mineral springs for therapeutic purposes. He also pointed out the need for discovering specific medicines to treat particular diseases, for example, mercury in the treatment of syphilis.

Paracelsus’ materialist, though primitive, views and practical work were not free from medieval mysticism and religion. He developed the theory of the “archaeus,” the highest spiritual principle that apparently regulates the body’s activity.


Sdmtliche Werke, section 1, vols. 1–14. Munich-Jena, 1922–36. Section 2, vols. 4–5: Wiesbaden, 1955–56.


Proskuriakov, V. M. Paratsel’s. Moscow, 1935.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.