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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Paracelsus, and The Book of Drachma

Well, now that I've completed the task of writing The Book of Drachma, I think it would be safe to let all of you in on a little secret - namely the origin of some of the characters in my story.

In either November or December, 1493 a certain person was born to a german physician and housemaid, whose given name was (I am not making this up) Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim. Well, as you may well imagine, he changed his name, and became known to the world as Paracelsus, which is Latin and means "beside Celsus", an ancient Roman physician.

Now Paracelsus was taught the arts of medicine, alchemy, mathematics and music in a number of universities across Europe, including universities in Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, and though the records from the time are sketchy, it would appear that young Paracelsus had to leave several of those universities under cover of darkness. It seems that his own persona was not one to be held down in any debate, and his temperament was a bit too abrasive to be handled.

So, the young Paracelsus roamed about Europe, lecturing at universities, being sent to prison, or nearly so for a number of years, and working alternately as an itinerant physician, astrologer and a journeyman miner, with stops in Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden and Russia.

It also turns out that Paracelsus was passionately fond of learning from any and all, from whatever source the person came from, and sought out healers from Spain, Africa, Asia Minor, including the Holy Land. Now he is said to have gathered and translated manuscripts as he went along. But his greatest surviving work is one called Die Grosse Wundartznei (the Great Surgery Book).

One of the things that kept Paracelsus on the "hot seat" at the universities was his disdain for the teachings of Galen, which were considered by physicians to be absolute and unchallengeable. The main thrust of Galen's teaching was that there are four "humors" in the body (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile), and that disease was caused by imbalance of one of these "humors." This did not appear, to Paracelsus, to have any validity, and he prized observation, experience, experimentation, and intuition over any attempt at "correcting" the humors. He was also known as a chemist, and developed the notion that mercury could cure syphilis (which held up until Penicillin came along). He is said to have developed the chemical laudanum, as the first truly good analgesic, and he coined the term "alcohol."

As to wound healing he was quick to note that "if you prevent infection, nature will heal the wound all by herself."

And then, his ideas on the nature of physicians and healers resound to this day, including such notions that the practice of healing was a sacred and noble profession, and the qualities of a true physician include wisdom, empathy, purity and singleness of purpose. And further, a true physician must be physically pure, intellectually honest, and a person of true integrity.

Well, you may wonder, "who is this character in The Book of Drachma?" Let me just say that there are multiple persons in my story, who exemplify the features of Paracelsus. If you look, you will find him in the characters of Robert Gilsen, Drachma, Falma, and, yes, Judy Morrison.

1 comment:

  1. Paracelsus for sure was a very interesting person, it's a shame that these days some physicians seem to have forgotten that healing is a sacred and noble profession but luckily there are still many who do. Very interesting read.

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