Rabbits Full of Magic

23 February 2015

 

Cult Hit

I am doing research for a videogame I am making called Super Madrigal Bros., which is based in medieval times. Mostly this is Googling images of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, opening them in Photoshop, and cutting out parts that look interesting, filing them in a folder for later. Today I ended up in a Wikipedia wormhole about someone who is definitely going to be in this game:

Paracelsus was born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim in 1493, the son of a Swiss German chemist and physician. By age 16 he was considered a prodigy in Alchemical studies and began started studying medicine at the University of Basel, moved to Vienna, and eventually finished schooling at the University of Ferrara when he was 25. Thus began a charmed life of travelling -- first around Europe, attempting to hold official positions. He considered himself a Revolutionary, and publicly criticized traditional methods while rebelling at authority. "All they can do is gaze at piss", he sneered.

This won him many enemies and his cantankerous nature led the rest of his life to be spent travelling. He travelled around Europe as a Plague Doctor, at a time when trained physicians stayed out of that profession. Indeed, he displayed a lifelong commitment to the impoverished and suffering, of which there were many. Europe experienced nearly half a millenia of plague outbreaks occuring once a generation, and the population was consistently devastated.

One of his contributions to science was considering the health of a person as result of something bad ingested from food or the air, rather than the Four Humors of Hippocratic Medicine which were commonly accepted at the time. He devised a tincture of opium that became widely used for hundreds of years, primarily as a cough suppressant (it is related to codeine). This substance and others were packed into the beak of a strange mask, resulting in the surreal bird-like costume of the Plague Doctors. Doctors began wearing these outfits while attending to plague victims, so much so that the sight of one could terrify an unsuspecting villager. The sight of a plague doctor foretold nothing less than a local apocalypse.

It is difficult to consider this kind of life, from the 21st century. The plague continued to decimate Europe until the 20th century, and medical practices were for a long time unable to have any positive effect whatsoever. In the face of such hopelessness I'm sure any success, however incidental to procedure, would be seen as a sign of hope. If the plague doctors were powerful enough to inspire fear (their presence so often coinciding with the plague) no doubt their powers were looked up to, however fanciful. A successful plague doctor was tirelessly self-promoting, perhaps not adverse to inventing an Initiation to Grand Mysteries upon visiting an exotic location. Certainly if you were travelling around Europe, surviving while watching thousands of people die around you, granted the anonymity of a mask, and intoxicated on potent narcotic mixtures you yourself were experimenting with, you would have quite a high opinion of yourself!

In 1526 he bought the rights of citizenship in Strasbourg to establish his own practice. But soon after he was called to Basel to the sickbed of Johann Froben or Frobenius, a successful printer and publisher. Based on historical accounts, Paracelsus cured Frobenius.

Paracelsus was one of the first medical professors to recognize that physicians required a solid academic knowledge in the natural sciences, especially chemistry. Furthermore, he allowed for the access of medical academic work to learned people. Surgeons for example often were not academically trained and ranked with the barbers and butchers in the same guild.

Paracelsus is also a folk legend, and bizarre tales about his life circulated Central Europe for centuries. In the minds of many, he became a wonder-healer and spiritual protector of health. His aid to villages during the plague in the 16th century was for many an act of heroism, his works and achievements therefore often abused and falsely copied.

While attending the sick bed of Frobenius (see above), Erasmus of Rotterdam witnessed the curative powers of Paracelsus' therapy. Deeply impressed by his skills, he must have recommended him to his humanist friends at the University of Basel, one of the most progressive schools at that time. Paracelsus' contact with Erasmus also initiated a letter dialogue between them.

He died at the age of 47 in Salzburg, and his remains were buried according to his wishes in the cemetery at the church of St. Sebastian in Salzburg. His remains are now located in a tomb in the porch of that church.

After his death, the movement of Paracelsianism was seized upon by many wishing to subvert the traditional Galenic physics, and his therapies became more widely known and used.

His motto was "Alterius non sit qui suus esse potest" which means "Let no man belong to another who can belong to himself." -- Wikipedia


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