- (1493-1541)Swiss-born physician, known for his re-jection of the practices, theories, and authorities of traditional academic medicine. Born at Einsiedeln, the son of a physician, he may never have regularly attended any university or received a medical doctor-ate, but both his reputation among contemporaries and his many sur-viving writings show that he had a broad general education, not only in medical subjects but also in mystical religion and Neoplatonic philosophy. He incorporated popular remedies and superstitions into his medical practice, and he was broadly sympathetic with Martin Luther, not in a theological sense but in reverence for the Bible and willingness to reject traditional authorities. He challenged the value of the ancient authors whose works were the theoretical foundation of academic medicine, such as Aristotle and Galen, as well as the medieval medical authority Avicenna, whose principal book he pub-licly burned during a public festival while serving as municipal physician at Basel in the 1520s.Paracelsus scorned the traditional explanation of illness as an imbal-ance of the four humors; he rejected the works of Hippocrates and Galen which were the foundation of humoral medicine. Instead, he ar-gued that disease was caused by external agents and must be treated with medicines specific to the ailment. His preferred remedies were based on his study of alchemy and included substances derived from toxic plants and minerals. His laboratory techniques and experiments with the modification of substances by distillation and chemical com-pounding made him a pioneer in the medical applications of chemistry.Paracelsus had an abrasive, uncultivated manner, and his practice of lecturing in German rather than Latin, together with his contemp-tuous rejection of conventional medicine, aroused the hostility of ac-ademic physicians. Yet he seems to have been strikingly successful at curing patients. While his unconventional ideas and practices led to his having an unstable and itinerant existence, Paracelsus' ideas and practices attracted a loyal body of disciples. They continued to de-velop and popularize Paracelsan medical ideas through the late 16th and 17th centuries, not only in German-speaking territories but also in England, France, and other European countries. Only a few of his many medical tracts were published in his lifetime, but after his death a great body of Paracelsan medical literature was published, some of it genuine but much of it spurious.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.