Tachenius, Otto

views updated


(b. Herford, Westphalia: d. probably Venice, Italy)

medical chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry.

The details of Tachenius life are extremely obscure and are based mainly on statements by his enemies. He is said to have been the son of a miller and to have been apprenticed to an apothecary (which is likely), from whose service he was dismissed for theft. About 1640 he went east to Holstein and Prussia, serving apothecaries in Kiel, Danzig, and Königsberg. In 1644 he went to Italy, acquired an M.D. from Padua in 1652, and settled in Venice, where he sold a “Viperine salt” (sal viperinum) as a sovereign remedy. While there he wrote a short commentary on J.B. van Helmont’s alkahest, in the form of a letter to Duke Frederick of Holstein; he then sent it to Helwig Dieterich, a physician whom he had met in Königsberg, to see through the press. Published as Epistola de famoso liquore Alkahest, it is said to have appeared with an appendix criticizing the author’s arguments and grammar. (The pamphlet was reportedly published at Venice, but since it now seems to have disappeared, the affair is difficult to disentangle.) Tachenius attacked Dieterich, whom he naturally held responsible, in Echo . . . de liquore Alcaeist; it also apparently has disappeared. Dieterich’s Vindiciae adversus Ottonem Techenium (Hamburg, 1655), however, is extant and gives an account of the whole affair and a scurrilous narrative of Tachenius’ youthful career, as well as casting doubt upon the composition of the “viperine salt” which Dieterich claimed was mainly spirit of hartshorn (ammoniacal salt). Tachenius also was attacked by Johann Zwelfer in a new edition of the Pharmacopoeia Augustana(1657), on the ground that the viperine salt was no novelty and, in any case, of doubtful efficacy. Tachenius replied in Hippocrates chemicus, a defense of the viperine salt that included a discussion of the nature and use of alkalies. In his Clavishe further elaborated his theory of alkalies and advanced the theory that acid and alkali are the two principles or elements of all things: acid, hot and dry, provides the masculine principle: alkali, cold and moist, the feminine. According to Tachenius they correspond to the fire and water that Hippocrates found in all things, and hence he claimed to have revived “Hippocratean chemistry” –whatever that may be. His views obviously were derived from the Helmontian theory of acid and alkali as the governing principles of human physiology. Tachenius did not, as historians have claimed, “correctly” define salts as composed of acid and alkali, since to him all matter, animate and inanimate alike, was so composed. Hippocrates chemicus is of added interest for its descriptions of industrial methods of the production of soap, sal ammoniac, and corrosive sublimate. The date of his death is unknown; he is variously described as alive in Venice, in either 1669 or 1699, and as having died in 1670.


I. Original Works. The first two works published by Tachenius are extremely rare and appear not to have been seen by anyone writing on him since the eighteenth century; their titles were then given as Epistola de famoso liquore Alkahest Helmontü (Venice, 1652 “or 1655” and Echo ad vindicias chyrosophi de liquore Alcaeist (Venice, 1656). They were followed by a treatise on diseases of the joints (possibly his M.D. thesis),Exercitatio de recta acceptatione arthritidis et podagrae (Padua, 1662). Under the anagrammatic pseudonym Marc Antonio Crassellane chinese “sic” there appeared Lux obnubilata suapte nature refulgens. Vera de lapide philosophico theorica metro italico descripta... (Venice, 1666; Milan, 1968), ascribed to Tachenius by MSS notes in two copies at the Bibliothèque Nationale—French trans. as La tumière sortant par soy même des ténèbres (Paris, 1687, 1693); German trans. as Das aus der Finsterniss von sich selbst hervorbrechende Light (Langensalza, 1772).

His most popular works, which went through many eds., often together, were Hippocrates chemicus, per ignem et aquam methodo inaudita novissimi salis viperini antiquissima fundamenta ostendens (Venice, 1666, 1678, 1697; Brunswick, 1668; Paris, 1669. 1674; Leiden, 1671): and Antiquissimae Hippocraticae medicinae clavis manuali experientia in naturae fontibus elaborata(Brunswick, 1668; Venice, 1669, 1697; Frankfurt, 1669, 1673; Leiden, 1671; Paris, 1671, 1672; Lyons, 1671). An English ed. of both is Otto Tachenius His Hippocrates Chymicus, Which Discovers the Ancient Foundations of the Late Viperine Salt. And His Clavis Thereunto (London, 1677,1690). Tractorum de morborum principe was published both with Hippocrates chemicus (Venice, 1678) and independently (Osnabrück, 1678, 1679).

II.Secondary Literature. Tachenius’ acid-alkali theory was first discussed at length in F. Bertrand,Réflexions nouvelles sur l’acide et sur l’alcalie (Lyons, 1683). The chief biographical source appears to be J.C. Barchusen, Historia medicinae (Amsterdam, 1710), based in turn partly on Dieterich’s Vindiciae. There are brief biographies in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, XXXVII (Berlin, 1894, 1971), 340; John Ferguson, Bibliotheca chemica. II (London, 1906, 1954), 424 – 425; and Lynn Thorndike,A History of Magic and Experimental Science, VIII, 357 – 361. For a long summary of Hippocrates chemicus and Clavis, see J . R . Partington, A History of’Chernistry, II (London, 1961), 291 – 296.

Marie Boas Hall