Paracelsus: Alchemy to the Aid of Medicine

Paracelsus: Alchemy to the Aid of Medicine
What might Severus Snape and Paracelsus, a Swiss doctor of the Renaissance period, have in common? More than you can imagine! Both were professors, practiced alchemy, had virtually no friends, and didn’t make it to the age of 50. Yet, despite their many foes, both managed to achieve widespread recognition and respect.

The Half-Blood Prince

Our hero’s real name is Philippus ­Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. The father of the future luminary of medicine was the illegitimate son of an old aristocratic family and passed on to his son an intricate, noble family name. However, he decided to choose a shorter alias for himself. “Paracelsus” means “alongside of, or near Celsus.” Celsus was an ancient scientist and encyclopaedist (not to be confused with Celsius, by whose degrees we measure the temperature!). Celsus wrote several detailed books on medicine and introduced many terms — for example, the name of the disease cancer. It is not surprising that Paracelsus, an avid student of the medical field, took the name of his Roman predecessor. However, there is another version of events: some say the name should be translated as “surpassing Celsus” — our hero supposedly wanted to contrast himself with outdated, archaic works.

Paracelsus’s interest in medicine and other natural sciences was not accidental: his father was a doctor himself, and his mother worked at a hospital. From childhood, the young man studied botany, mineralogy, and medicine, and he received a theological education at the monastery school of St. Paul (this was a common occurrence for educated people of that time). At the age of 16, Paracelsus began to study medicine at the University of Basel, the oldest and most prestigious university in Switzerland, and he showed remarkable talent and diligence (again, the spitting image of Snape!), and sometime in 15151516, he received a doctorate.

Before becoming a professor, Paracelsus went on to see the world: he served as a military surgeon, treated people in different parts of Europe, and never missed an opportunity to gain new knowledge from executioners or barbers. Upon his return to the university, the scientist had already developed a reputation for eccentricity and rebellion, which he did not intend to abandon. On the contrary, ignoring tradition, Paracelsus began to teach lectures not in Latin, but in German, so that medical science would be accessible to everyone.

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