Paracelsus, Biography of an Alchemist and Dreamer

So great is the historical importance of Paracelsus, that an asteroid and a lunar crater bear his name. His life and work inspired great poets such as Goethe and Borges. He is considered the father of modern toxicology.

Share Give it a Spin!
Follow by Email

We know him as Paracelsus, but his real name was Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim. He was one of the most interesting figures in the history of medicine and science in general. Considered by some as a little crazy, visionary and, no doubt, very imaginative.

If something had Paracelsus it was intellectual ambition. He was a hardened seeker of the philosopher’s stone, an unknown substance that supposedly made it possible to transmute lead into gold. He also wanted to find the elixir of eternal youth and worked hard for it.

“What is forged with fire is alchemy, whether in an oven or in the kitchen stove.”


In the midst of his fantastic adventures, Paracelsus became an extraordinary researcher. He is considered the father of toxicology and pharmacology. It was a kind of hybrid between magician and scientist. Just as he was ahead of his time, he also passionately supported his mythical and mystical beliefs.

The beginnings of a genius

Paracelsus was born in 1493, in an area close to what is now Zurich (Switzerland). Several members of his family were doctors, including his father, and this greatly affected his interest in this discipline.

During his youth he worked as an analyst in the mines. This gave him important knowledge of minerals, which would be decisive in his work. At age 16, he went to the University of Basel and later obtained a PhD at the University of Ferrara.

Although he was linked to academic life, Paracelsus was convinced that medicine could not be taught in an institution. He was also very critical, from the beginning, with the official medicine of his time. He questioned Hippocrates, Avicenna and Galen. This prompted him to be seen with apprehension by his colleagues.

Paracelsus, an experimenter

Very early, Paracelsus opted to experiment on his own and have a direct deal with the sick. This led to a bad reputation among doctors. His physical appearance was also criticized. It caused rejection because he was short, bald and obese. Perhaps for that reason, this genius always preferred the company of the most destitute.

His experimentations and innovative methods that he began to apply successfully generated myths and legends around him. It was said that he had a pact with the devil. Popularly he was known as “the cursed doctor”. He was accused of magic and witchcraft, when in reality he was a man deeply believer in God.

That tension with his colleagues and other authorities led him to become a wandering man. He came to a place and it was not long before he already had conflicts. So I started again. At the same time, with his strange reputation, news about his effectiveness as a doctor also flew.

Alchemy and chemistry

Paracelsus used minerals and chemicals to treat diseases, when this was not styled. That allowed him to treat patients who were incurable for their time. There are testimonies that he successfully treated cases of epilepsy, leprosy and gout. He was the first doctor to describe syphilis and propose a treatment with mercury for it.

This great researcher was also the inventor of laudanum. This was one of the first chemical analgesics of which one has news. He also studied the poisons in great detail and formulated a maxim that remains to this day: “the dose makes the poison.”

Unlike his contemporaries, Paracelsus was a doctor very close to his patients. He also believed that his knowledge should be in the public domain. For that reason, he gave speeches for the community, explaining his science in simple language.

A new approach to medicine

Paracelsus affirmed that medicine had four major axes. These were: the natural sciences, astronomy, chemistry and love. I thought that plants and minerals did not heal by themselves, but needed goodness and an inspiration given by God, so that they really were effective.

Unlike the doctors of his time, he was convinced of the goodness of the surgeries. At that time that trade was performed by barbers and only in very specific circumstances. Many doctors, centuries later, were inspired by their methods.

Not all were his enemies. Among his admIradores also had nothing less than Erasmus of Rotterdam, of whom he was a personal physician and friend. A German prince also gave him his protection. He died at the young age of 47, murdered by some thugs who wanted to steal it. They lost their time: he had already donated all his goods to the poor.