388. Just Add Salt: Paracelsus and Alchemy

Posted on

Paracelsus adapts the tradition of alchemical science for use in medicine, and in the process overturns the scientific theories of Aristotle and Galen.



Further Reading

Jolande Jacobi, Paracelsus Selected Writings (Princeton: 1951).


• M.L. Bianchi, “The Visible and the Invisible: from Alchemy to Paracelsus,” in P. Rattansi and A. Clericuzio (eds), Alchemy and Chemistry in the 16th and 17th Centuries (Dordrecht: 1994), 17-50.

• D.T. Daniel, “Invisible Wombs: Rethinking Paracelsus’s Concept of Body and Matter,” Ambix 53 (2006), 129-42.

• A.G. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 2 vols (New York: 1977).

• P.J. Forshaw, “Cabala Chymica or Chemia Cabalistica: Early Modern Alchemists and Cabala,” Ambix 60 (2013), 361-89

• O.P. Grell (ed.), Paracelsus: the Man and his Reputation, his Ideas and Their Transformation (Leiden: 1998).

• B.T. Moran, Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge MA: 2005).

• W. Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel: 1958) .

• H. Trevor-Roper, “The Paracelsian Movement,” in H. Trevor-Roper, Renaissance Essays (London: 1986), 149-99.

• A. Weeks, Paracelsus: Speculative Theory and the Crisis of the Early Reformation (New York: 1997).


In reply to by Rob Hewett

Peter Adamson on 19 January 2022


Giraffes are definitely on topic for this episode, they come from the seeds of salt, mercury, and sulphur! The good news about their population rise is perfectly in line with Paracelsan principles.

Just a reminder that there is no philosophical claim that cannot be illustrated with giraffes, including the claim being made in this sentence.

Isaac of York on 24 January 2022


If I were a latter-day Agrippa, I would use my foreknowledge of this episode to tell you all about saltiness in gamer slang first and thus open for you a vista of opportunities for glorious puns about Paracelsus' invective. 

In reply to by Isaac of York

Peter Adamson on 24 January 2022


Do I even want to know? I'm afraid to google it.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Isaac of York on 14 April 2022

Saltiness Explain

Yes, please let me make my own tiny contribution to your knowledge!

Saltiness/salt: expressions of frustration, resentment, upset, normally at losing/otherwise being bested. To wit, being a bit of a Paracelsus!

And perhaps less useful, but related...

Cheesiness/cheese: the use of tactics/methods that exploit holes in the rules/mechanics of the game, the result being success not intended by the parameters of the game.

I will listen out keenly for more episodes on matter!

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.