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Paracelsus, Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von

1. Dates
Born: Einsiedeln, Switzerland, ca. 1493 [or 1 May 1494]
Died: Salzburg, 24 Sep 1541
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 48
2. Father
Occupation: Physician
He was the son of Wilhelm Bombast de Riett, an illegitimate member of the very old and noble Bombast (Banbast) family of Swabia, who practiced medicine from 1502-1534 at Villach, in Carinthia.
I assume physicians were prosperous.
3. Nationality
Birth: Einsiedeln, Switzerland
Career: no fixed place, throughout Germany and German- speaking countries. And Switzerland.
Death: Salzburg, Austria
4. Education
Schooling: Vienna, Ferrara
He received his early education from his father.
He was tutored (by his account) by several bishops and apparently by Johannes Tritheminus, abbot of Sponheim, who was also in contact with Agrippa von Nettesheim.
He did practical work at the Fugger mining school at Hutenberg, near Villach, and was apprenticed at the Siegfried Fueger mines at Swaz.
He may have studied for a bachelors degree at the University of Vienna between 1509 and 1511, but there is no evidence that he received such a degree.
1513-16, he travelled and studied in Italy, notably Ferrara under Johannes Manardus (1462-1536). He may have taken a lower medical degree. The only evidence we have for a degree of any kind is Paracelsus's own testimony given during a legal proceeding that he received a doctorate. When Paracelsus settled in Strasbourg in 1526, he was not enrolled in the physicians but in the grain merchants guild. This seems to indicate that he did not actually hold the degree that he claimed.
Wolfgang Thalhauser, in his laudatory preface to Paracelsus's Grosse Wundartzney (1536), calls Paracelsus a "doctor of both medicines."
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Medicine, Iatrochemistry, Chemistry
Subordinate: Astrology, Natural Philosophy
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Secondary: Government
He was employed as a military surgeon in the Venetian service in 1522. From the fact that Paracelsus appears to have been very well travelled, it seems probable that he was involved in the many wars waged between 1517 and 1524 in Holland, Scandinavia, Prussia, Tartary, the countries under Venetian influence, and possibly the near East.
After a series of abortive attempts to establish a practice in southern Germany and Switzerland, he settled in Strasbourg where he had a successful practice (1526-7).
He was then called to Basel (1527), where he was town physician with a rare commission and right to lecture at the university. He was forced to leave after the death of his patron (1528).
Thereafter, his life was a long journey interupted by short periods of residence in southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Bohemia. He presumably earned his living as a healer and writer.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Merchant, City Magistrate, Aristrocrat
At Strasbourg, Paracelsus relied for protection from his fellow physicians on the reformers: Nicolaus Gerbelius, Kaspar Hedio, and Wolfgang Capito. Capito had been in Basel earlier and was an intimate and old friend of Paracelsus's Basel patron Oecolampadius. Captio was the most powerful of the three.
At Basel, Paracelsus successfully treated the leg of the publisher Froben, who was at the center of the humanist movement in Basel. This won Paracelsus the grateful recognition of Erasmus and the powerful Amerbach brothers. Paracelsus was at that time simply visiting Basel and Erasmus then expressed his desire to secure his services for Basel. Oecolampadius was responsible for Paracelsus's actual appointment. With Froben's death, Paracelsus lost a major protector, and the pressure against him began to rise. When Paracelsus insulted a judge after a prejudiced ruling against him, he was forced to leave town.
Paracelsus derided the use of guaiac in the treatment of syphilis, claiming that its only benefit was to the coffers of the Fuggers, who held the import monopoly on the drug. Paracelsus's planned printing of the Eight Books on the French Disease was banned due to a decree based on the opinion of the dean of the Leipzig medical faculty, Heinrich Strower, a friend and beneficiary of the Fugger family.
The Opus Paramirum (1531) was dedicated to Joachim de Watt (Vadianus), the humanist and at that time acting mayor of St. Gall, where the book was published and where Paracelsus lived for an unusually long two-year period.
During his years of wandering, he was called to Moravian Kromau for a consulation on the behalf of Johann von der Leipnik, a high dignitary of the Kingdon of Bohemia.
He had two audiences with King Ferdinand (of Austria?) and tried to regain some of his prestige, but it eluded him. The King later called him the biggest swindler he had ever met.
The "Carinthian Trilogy" (1538) is dedicated to the authorities of the land where Paracelsus was at the time.
The "Tartarus" is inscribed to the theologian and jurist friend of his youth, Johannes von Braut, who accepted the dedication but never undertook the promised printing.
About 1541, the bishop suffragan Ernst of Wittelsbach called him to Salzburg.
Paracelsus was himself a patron to Johannes Oporinus (1507-1568), his apprentice and later professor of Greek at Basel and the publisher of Vesalius (1543). His apprentice described him as living luxuriously, never short of money and fond of expensive and new clothes.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
Practiced medicine as his major source of support for his entire career.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Rennaissance (Basel: S. Karger, 1958). [H.P.S. Reading Room]
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Frank Geerk, Paracelsus--Arzt unerer Zeit: Leben, Werk und Wirkungsgeschichte des Theophrastus von Hohenheim, (Zürich, 1992). Joachim Telle, ed. Parerga Paracelsica: Paracelsus in Verganenheit und Gegenwart, (Heidelberger Studien zur Naturkunde der frühen Neuzeit, 3), (Stuttgart, 1991). Charles Webster, "Paracelsus: Medicine as Popular Protest," in Ole Peter Greil and Andrew Cunmningham, eds. Medicine and the Reformation, (London, 1993).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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