Posted by: Green Knight | May 23, 2010


Real name Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, Swiss alchemist and the father of toxicology, 1493-1541.  He’s a scientist i used to discuss in environmental classes, because i always tried to add a dose of history and philosophy of science when teaching.  He’s the one who said “the dose is the poison,” meaning everything is toxic in the right amount.  But i didn’t know that he made great strides in studying syphilis, or came up with mercury-compound treatments for it, or that he figured out that the “miner’s disease” (silicosis) was caused by breathing rock dust instead of by malign mountain spirits.  He also came up with homeopathic medicine.  See what reading the “Britannica Guide to the 100 Most Influential Scientists” can do?

But they don’t mention Bernardino Ramazzini, 1633-1714, who was the father of industrial medicine…also very likely the model for the botanist in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” about a doctor who grows all kinds of poisonous plants in his garden.  Unfortunately i missed a lecture a few days ago by someone from the Missouri Botanical Garden called “Wicked Plants,” on how various of our leafy fellow-inhabitants have affected human history.  i hope to get a prospectus later.



  1. Very interesting stuff; I keep coming back for more info. I didn’t realize that science was forming this way and pushing out mythic misinformation this far back. I always think of science and most of its discoveries and progress as “modern.” I guess “modern” is “relative.”

  2. it all goes back to Thales of Miletus.

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