Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, who called himself Paracelsus, stands at the cusp of medieval and modern times. A contemporary of Luther, an enemy of the medical establishment, a scourge of the universities, an alchemist, an army surgeon, and a radical theologian, he attracted myths even before he died. His fantastic journeys across Europe and beyond were said to be made on a magical white horse, and he was rumored to carry the elixir of life in the pommel of his great broadsword. His name was linked with Faust, who bargained with the devil.
Who was the man behind these stories? Some have accused him of being a charlatan, a windbag who filled his books with wild speculations and invented words. Others claim him as the father of modern medicine. Philip Ball exposes a more complex truth in The Devil's Doctor—one that emerges only by entering into Paracelsus's time. He explores the intellectual, political, and religious undercurrents of the sixteenth century and looks at how doctors really practiced, at how people traveled, and at how wars were fought. For Paracelsus was a product of an age of change and strife, of renaissance and reformation. And yet by uniting the diverse disciplines of medicine, biology, and alchemy, he assisted, almost in spite of himself, in the birth of science and the emergence of the age of rationalism.
"Ball produces a vibrant, original portrait of a man of contradictions:" - Publishers Weekly
If one really wants to understand the contradictions and "intellectual ferment" of the 16th century, says Ball, one should look not at Luther or Copernicus, but at the much-maligned Paracelsus. Born in Switzerland in 1493, Philip Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus, is a figure often more imagined than known. Famous as a doctor of alchemic medicine, he has been compared with Faust and developed a reputation as a miracle worker and charlatan that only grew after his death in 1543. Ball, author of the prize-winning Critical Mass, mixes scant biographical detail with a wide-ranging evocation of the Renaissance worldview to create a fascinating portrait of the man, his age and his historical reputation. Forays into ancient, medieval and Islamic medicine, academic rivalries, the proliferation of publications, and treatments of syphilis all help to recreate the mindset in which doctor and patient lived. Concepts of magic as simply the hidden qualities of nature, and the blurring of poison and medicine demonstrate how what we call science and magic overlapped. Ball produces a vibrant, original portrait of a man of contradictions: " humble braggart, a puerile sage, an invincible loser, a courageous coward, a pious heretic, an honest charlatan...." 50 b&w illus.