Paracelsus wanted a better pharmacopeia

[Paracelsus (1493–1541) wanted a better pharmacopeia (an encyclopedia of drugs). He was a relentless and impatient iconoclast – a breaker of idols – and traditional medicine and moribund academics were his targets. It was a time for iconoclasts, and for burning same. The world was changing. This was about the time of the possible real Faust, but Paracelsus died decades before the first known manuscript.]

From Wikipedia on Paracelsus:

‘Paracelsus was well known as a difficult man. He gained a reputation for being arrogant and soon garnered the anger of other physicians in Europe. Some even claim he was a habitual drinker. He was prone to many outbursts of abusive language, abhorred untested theory, and ridiculed anybody who placed more importance on titles than practice (“if disease put us to the test, all our splendor, title, ring, and name will be as much help as a horse’s tail”).

During his time as a professor at University of Basel, he invited barber-surgeons, alchemists, apothecaries, and others lacking academic background to serve as examples of his belief that only those who practiced an art knew it: ‘The patients are your textbook, the sickbed is your study.’ He held the chair of medicine at the University of Basel and city physician for less than a year. He angered his colleagues by lecturing in German instead of Latin in order to make medical knowledge more accessible to the common people. He is credited as the first to do so. He was the first to publicly condemn the medical authority of Avicenna and Galen and threw their writings into a bonfire on St. John’s Day in 1527.

In 1526 he bought the rights of citizenship in Strasbourg to establish his own practice. But soon after he was called to Basel to the sickbed of Johann Froben or Frobenius, a successful printer and publisher. Based on historical accounts, Paracelsus cured Frobenius.

He was a contemporary of Copernicus, Leonardo da Vinci and Martin Luther. During his life, he was compared with Luther partly because his ideas were different from the mainstream and partly because of openly defiant acts against the existing authorities in medicine, such as his public burning of ancient books. This act struck people as similar to Luther’s defiance against the Church. Paracelsus rejected that comparison. Famously Paracelsus said, “I leave it to Luther to defend what he says and I will be responsible for what I say. That which you wish to Luther, you wish also to me: You wish us both in the fire.’


“As a physician of the early 16th century, Paracelsus held a natural affinity with the Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophies central to the Renaissance, a world-view exemplified by Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Paracelsus rejected the magic theories of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Nicolas Flamel in his Archidoxes of Magic. Astrology was a very important part of Paracelsus’ medicine and he was a practicing astrologer — as were many of the university-trained physicians working at this time in Europe. Paracelsus devoted several sections in his writings to the construction of astrological talismans for curing disease. He also invented an alphabet called the Alphabet of the Magi, for engraving angelic names upon talismans. Paracelsus largely rejected the philosophies of Aristotle and Galen, as well as the theory of humors. Although he did accept the concept of the four elements as water, air, fire, and earth, he saw them merely as a foundation for other properties on which to build.”

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