Khunrath(or Kunrath or Kuhnrat[h] or Cunradius or Conrathus), Conrad

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Khunrath(or Kunrath or Kuhnrat[h] or Cunradius or Conrathus), Conrad

(b. Leipzig, Germany; d. not later than 1614)

medicine, preparation of medicines, chemistry.

Little is known of Khunrath’s life. It has not yet been proved that he is identical with a person of the same name and place of birth who enrolled at Leipzig University in the winter of 1562. Khunrath lived in the duchy of Holstein, then Danish, for several years and in 1594 at Schleswig.

Khunrath’s man work is Medulla Destillatoria et Medica, which seems to have been successful, for it passed through at least eight editions, the last in 1703. The two volumes, each of 650 pages, with detailed subject indexes, contain descriptions of many kinds of illnesses, prescriptions for curing them, and manifold applications of the process of distillation, including instructions for constructing the appropriate apparatus. Distilling is defined as “a dissolution or separation of a composed body into its simpler parts by help of heat.” This operation, subsequently improved by others, was used in the Chymische Kunst. All is based on practical experience, the result of which—the medicament—is therefore called “experiment.” Numerous medicines are treated: fruits, plants, salts, natural waters, stones, and animals—in short, as much as God has provided in the three natural kingdoms. Since human nourishment is considered to be essential for health, descriptions of grain, olives, and other foods are included.

Khunrath was a follower of Paracelsus, whom he knew personally, but his reference to Georg Agricola and Conrad Gesner confirms the influence also of metallurgical knowledge on the development of chemistry. Although Khunrath, as his contemporaries were doing, occasionally attributed cures to God’s blessing or the effects of the signs of the zodiac and the planets, his book represents a masterpiece of clear, practical prescriptions and in the 17th century appears to have been considered a storehouse of information on curing.

It is impossible to give here an impression of his fine work, which is cited by several contemporaries, such as Libau and Joachim Jungius. It is certain that to historians of science he and his work are virtually unknown, being overshadowed by the writings of the theosopher and alchemist Heinrich Khunrath.


I. Original Works. Personal examination of the books and a check of catalogs in modern libraries reveals the following: Medulla Destillatoria et Medica. Das ist, Warhafftiger eigentlicher gründlicher bericht. . .(Schleswig [1594], in German; Chirurgia Vulnerum: Das list, von Heylung der Wunden: Philippi Theophrasti, Paracelsi Durch einen fleissigen Zuhörer aus seinem Munde auffgezeichnet. . .(Schleswig [1595]; Vier Schöne Medicische Tractat, vor nie in Truck kommen. De Elleboro. De Rore solis. De saccaro. Von der Schlangen.. . .(n.p., 1597) J. C. Adelung (in Fortsetzung und Ergānzungen zu. . . Jöchers allgemeinem Gelehrten-Lexico, 7 vols. (Leipzig, later Delmenhorst, Bremen, 1784-1897), gives an ed. of five papers, adding De Absinthio. See J. Ferguson, Bibliotheca Chemica I (London, 1954); C. G. Jöcher, Allgemeines Gelehrten Lexicon (Leipzig, 1750-1751); W. Heinsius, Allgemeines Bücherlexikon oder vollständiges alphabetisches Verzeichnis aller von 1700 bis 1892 erschenenen Bücher, 19 vols. (Leipzig, 1812-1894); and F. Ferchl, ChemischPharmazeutisches Bio-Bibliographikon, 2 Vols. (Mittenwald, 1937-1938); Eigentliche Beschreibung Derer für nembsten Virtutes. . . des. . . Olei Succini. . .(n.p., 1598); Relatio oder Erzehlng, wie der Grossmechtigste Herr Christianus Quartus, zu Dennemarck. . . in. . . Engellandt angleanget. . .(Hamburg, 1607), a trans. of two pamphlets by Henry Roberto:“The Most Royall and Honourable Entertainement of the Famous and Renowned King Christian the Fourth” and “England’s Farewell to Christian the Fourth” and Medulla Destillatoria et Medica, quartum aucia et renovator. Das ist: Griindliches und Vielbewehrtes Destillier und Artzney Buch, vol. I (Hamburg, 1614), vol. II (Hamburg, 1619); vol. II also Hamburg, 1615—for other eds. see catalogs of the British Museum, the Bibliothéque nationale, W. Heinsius (1812), T. Georgi, Allgemeines europäisches Bücherlexicon, 5 vols. and supps. 1-3 (Leipzig, 1742-1758); and Ferguson; the 1703 ed. was pub. at “Franckfurt and Leipzig” (Ferguson and Georgi are mistaken here); the work also appeared under the title Edelstes Kleinod Menschlicher Gesundheit; das ist:. . .Destillier und Artzeney-Kunst (Frankfurt am Main-Leipzig, 1680).

A further work deduced from bibliographies is Verteutschte Oration Königs Jacobi I. Anno 1605 von der Pulver-Verschwörung zu London (Hamburg, 1606)—see T. Georgi, supp. 3.

II. Secondary Literature. No full presentation of Khunrath’s life or work is known. Only remarks are included in the following works (listed chronologically): E. O. von Lippmann, Abhandlungen und Vorträge. . ., II (Leipzig, 1913), 383; J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, II (London-New York, 1961), 88; H. Kangro, Joachim Jungius’ Experimente und Gedanken zur Begründung der Chemie als Wissenschaft, ein Beitrag zur Geistesgeschichte des 17. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden, 1968), pp. 198, 220, 235, 307; and R. J. Forbes, A Short History of the Art of Distillation (Leiden, 1970), pp. 153, 158, 380 bibliographically incorrect. Older sources of remarks can be found in Ferguson’ catalog.

Hans Kangro