Borel, Pierre

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Borel, Pierre

(b. Castres, Languedoc, France, ca. 1620; d. Paris, France, 1671)

history, medicine, chemistry.

Borel studied at Montpellier and returned to Castres as an M.D. in 1641. Besides practicing medicine, he collected rarities, plants, antiquities, and minerals from the town and countryside of Castres. In 1645 he published a catalog of his collection and expanded it in 1649 to include the history and Roman inscriptions of the area.

About the end of 1653 Borel moved to Paris, where he received the title of médecin ordinaire du roy. Again, he became very active as a collector. He assembled some 4, 000 manuscripts and books of the Hermetic philosophers or chemists and published a catalog in Paris in 1653. A collection of linguistic antiquities listed in alphabetical order (1655) was the basis for Favre’s greatly enlarged Dictionnaire du vieux François, published in 1882. Borel also studied reports about the telescope; in his book of 1656 he cites Zacharias Janssen (1590) as the first inventor and Hans Lipperhey (1608) as the second. He also describes a “polemoscope,” a 1637 invention designed for looking around corners, which is particularly useful in warfare. He appended to this book an account of a hundred medicophysical observations with the microscope.

Among his original contributions to medicine are the statement that cataract is a darkening of the crystalline lens and the recommendation of the use of concave mirrors in the diagnostic examination of the nose and throat. Borel is credited with the first description of brain concussions.

His last work seems to have been a Hortus (1667)., which listed plants with known uses in medicine.


I. Original Works. Catalogue des raretés du cabinet de P. Borel (Castres, 1645); Les antiquités, rareté’s plantes, minéraux et autres choses considérables de la ville et comté de Castres, d’Albigeois, et des lieux qui sont à ses environs etc. (Castres, 1649); Bibliotheca chimica, seu cataloguslibrorum philosophicorum hermeticorum, in quo quatuor millia circiter auctorum chimicorum… usque ad annum 1653 continentur (Paris, 1654); De vero telescopii inventore, cum brevi omnium conspicillorum historia etc., accessit etiam centuria observationum microscopicarum (The Hague, 1655, 1656); Hortus, seu armamentarium simplicium plantarum et animalium ad artem medicam spectantium, cum brevi eorum etymologia, descriptione, loco, tempore et viribus (Castres, 1667); Petri Borelli historiarum et observationum medico-physicarum centuriae IV (Frankfurt- Leipzig, 1676), with additions by Arnold de Boot and L. Cattier.

II. Secondary Literature. See articles by R. P. Niceron, in Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des hommes illustres dans la république des lettres avec un catalogue résumé de leurs ouvrages, XXXVI (Paris, 1736), 218–224 (Niceron gives certain biographical dates that have been proved wrong); August Hirsch, ed., Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte, 2nd. ed., I (Berlin, 1929), 632; and Mme. Puech-Milhau, in Revue du Tarn, 4th ser., no. 7(1936). 279–280.

Eduard Farber