The New Chemical Medicine Invented by Paracelsus


Al-Ṭibb al-jadīd al-kīmiyāʼī alladhī ikhtaraʻahu Barākalsūs (The new chemical medicine invented by Paracelsus) is an Arabic compendium of alchemical works from early modern Europe by Salih ibn Nasrallah al-Halabi ibn Sallum (died 1671). Ibn Sallum was a noted physician in Aleppo and subsequently chief physician in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul. Ibn Sallum’s work is on iatrochemistry and consists of translations of Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus (1493‒1541), an alchemist, physician, and medical reformer, and of alchemist and physician Oswald Crollius (circa 1563–1609). The first part of Ibn Sallum’s work is an Arabic translation of Paracelsus, which includes an introduction and four chapters (each of which are divided further into sections). The introduction, an overview of the history of alchemy, describes the invention of alchemy by “Hermes Trismegistus the Egyptian” (a legendary “thrice-great Hermes” to whom a large corpus of writing was attributed) and the subsequent transfer of alchemical knowledge to the Hellenistic and Islamic worlds. The book also discusses Paracelsus and his transformation of alchemy into a field of medicine, with a dual focus on the perfection and purification of metals and on preserving the health of the human body. Chapter one is entitled al-Juz’ al-naẓarī min ashyā’ gharība wa huwa al-ṭibb al-kīmīyā’ī fī al-umūr al-ṭabī‘īya (On the speculative part of paranormal objects, i.e., alchemical medicine regarding the affairs of nature). This chapter includes a discussion of such topics as al-Hayūlā al-ūlā wa al-sirr al-akbar (prime matter and the great secret). The second chapter is entitled Asās ṭibb al-kīmīyā (On the principles of alchemical medicine). Presented in this chapter are sections on asbāb al-amrāḍ (the causes of illness), al-nabḍ (the pulse), and al-ʻalāj al-kullī (general treatments). The third chapter, Bayān kayfīyat tadbīr al-adwīya (On an explication of the manner of managing medicines), discusses chemical procedures involving metals and minerals. The fourth chapter, Fī al-ʻamaliyāt (On operations), discusses such procedures as the distillation of water. The second part of this compendium is an Arabic rendition of Basilica Chymica, by Crollius, who was influenced by Paracelsus. The first edition of Crollius’s work was probably printed in 1609 in Frankfurt, with a French translation appearing in 1622. The Arabic version of this work, which takes up roughly the second half of the manuscript, deals with the general treatment of diseases as well as the treatment of ailments that are specific to various organs. The bismallah (in the name of God) and the invocation to God and the Prophet have been omitted from the introduction to this manuscript. Also omitted is the subsequent sentence which identifies the work, and lists Paraclesus as the inventor of the new alchemical medicine.

Last updated: September 29, 2017