Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paracelsus: Wilder Than Fiction

After reading up on French criminal/cop Vidocq, I started trying to find other historical subjects whose lives would make a great adventure story, so I will continue to feature them with the "Wilder Than Fiction" tag. One, who I discovered in Norman Davies epic Europe: A History, is Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, a.k.a. Paracelsus (which basically means "Better Than Celsus," heh).

Medicine may not be all that exciting (interesting, maybe, but not the stuff of adventure stories) but Paracelsus was clearly an adventurous medical man. While he was firmly rooted in the beliefs of his time (16th century), believing in astrology and alchemy and other things, he also made some major leaps forward in the study of human anatomy, the idea that chemical remedies could cure some illnesses, and pioneered what we would now call holistic medicine.

But Paracelsus was also an adventurer in the truest sense of the word. He traveled the world seeking occult and philosophical knowledge, spending time in almost every nation-state of Europe, as well as traveling through Asia Minor and parts of North Africa - even as far away as China (extreme western China controlled by the Tartars, but still). Along the way, he named zinc and invented laudanum, which was still used as a painkiller in the early 1900s. He was considered very arrogant and, apparently, loud - it is theorized the use of the word "bombastic" to describe a loud speaker may have come from his name (see above).

Here's the Wikipedia article on Paracelsus. Davies' Europe goes into greater detail about the adventurous aspects of his life, including some close brushes with being burned at the stake, invention of occult alphabets, writing a book about surgery in an age where that was frowned upon, grave-robbing and defying traditional medics and the all-powerful religions of the day.

Once again, we see that real history is full of larger-than-life figures who would give many literary characters a run for their money.

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