Forgery and Early Modern Science: The Case of Pseudo-Paracelsus

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m.

The Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493/94–1541) is best known for his criticism of traditional university learning and for his reform of natural philosophy and medicine. The production of forgeries under his name was an integral part of the diffusion of the Paracelsian movement in early modern Europe. Especially since the 1570s, texts endowed with a strong flavor of alchemy and occult philosophy appeared in the international book market. Very few readers of the time could distinguish between the genuine and the inauthentic works of Paracelsus amid the flood of publications. This mixture of real and fake contributed much to the emergence of his legendary image as the patron of alchemy and occult philosophy.

This talk focuses on a strange treatise, On the Nature of Things, which was one of the most popular writings ascribed to Paracelsus. This treatise was first presented to readers in 1572, when the movement of forgery production reached a climax. During this time multiple editions of Paracelsus’s genuine work Archidoxis were published, allowing ample possibilities for the inclusion of forgeries. The talk will address the genesis of On the Nature of Things in the context of publication history.

Hiro Hirai

Hiro Hirai

Hiro Hirai

About the Speaker

Hiro Hirai is a research associate at the Center for Science and Society, Columbia University. He holds a PhD in philosophy and history of science from University of Lille 3. He has published widely in Renaissance and early modern natural philosophy, medicine, and alchemy, including Le concept de semence dans les théories de la Renaissance (Brepols, 2005) and Medical Humanism and Natural Philosophy (Brill, 2011). He also edited Justus Lipsius and Natural Philosophy (Royal Academy of Belgium, 2011) and Jacques Gaffarel between Magic and Science (Serra, 2014). He is currently preparing his third monograph on Renaissance science, medicine, and magic.

About the Series

Lunchtime Lectures are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.