Born in 1493 in the Swiss town of Einsiedeln, Phillippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim – who would later take the name Paracelsus – spent most of his childhood in Villach, where his father held a medical post. While most of his life prior to 1525 is highly speculative, it is generally believed that he earned a medical degree from the University of Ferrara in Italy. Although this cannot be substantiated, we do know that he spent a large portion of his youth traveling through Europe, during which he probably worked as a military surgeon and in the field of metallurgy. In 1527 he became Basel’s town physician, a post he was given as a reward for treating the well-known humanist publisher Johann Froben. During his time there he publicized his intention to break with contemporary reliance on ancient medical philosophers by publishing his manifesto Intimatio and publicly burning a medical textbook on the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist – actions which did not go over well in the community, and which ultimately led to his departure from Basel.
After leaving Basel he took the name Paracelsus – popularly believed to be his way of declaring his superiority to the Roman medical writer Cornelius Celsus, although he himself never made this claim – and traveled to a number of European cities during which he continued to write on topics including medicine and astrology. Some of the cities he settled in include Nuremberg and Augsburg, where his major work Der Grosse Wundartzney was published. He died in Salzburg in 1541.
The Robert E. Schlueter Paracelsus Collection is not only valuable to researchers interested in the history of science and medicine, but for anyone interested in the early modern period. The turmoil and the miracles of the Renaissance, the dawn of modern science, witchcraft and ingenious new ideas, far-fetched prognostications and practical recipes, rude criticism and distinct morals are captured in these books. In addition to works by Paracelsus, the collection includes medical, alchemical and philosophical writings of his contemporaries, followers, biographers, enemies and admirers.
If you would like more information about the collection, please visit the digital exhibit Rare Books at Becker.