Wedel, Georg Wolfgang

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(b. Golssen, Germany, 12 November 1645; d. Jena, Germany, 6/7 September 1721), medicine, chemistry.

After receiving elementary instruction from his father. Pastor Johann Georg Wedel, Wedel entered the famous school in Schulpforta with a scholarship from the Saxon Elector in 1656. He spent five successful years at Schulpforta and then proceeded to the University of Jena, where he studied philosophy and especially medicine. He also participated in disputations, witnessed dissections, acquired an iatrochemical manuscript, all the while maintaining close relations with Guerner Rolfinck. In 1667 Wedel practiced briefly in Landsberg, toured Silesia, visited Wittenberg and Leipzig, and then returned to Jena, where he qualified for his medical license and started giving lectures. Before the year was out, however, he was called to Gotha as a district physician. While practicing medicine there, he took his M.D. at Jena in 1669.

Three years later, expecting to be appointed to the medical faculty at Jena, Wedel took a brief study tour of Holland. In early 1673, shortly after his return, he assumed the chair of anatomy, surgery, and botany. Then, upon the death of his mentor Rolfinck in the spring. Wedel assumed the chair of theoretical medicine. He held this chair until 1719, when the death of another colleague made it possible for Wedel to rise to the chair of practical medicine and chemistry. Meanwhile, he had received many state honors, including personal ennoblement as count palatine in 1694. He even purchased a country estate., After nearly five decades of teaching and writing. Wedel died as the senior member of Jena’s entire faculty.

Wedel stood midway between medieval and modern world views, defending astrology and alchemy and championing iatrochemistry. He was a remarkably prolific author, but it was primarily by teaching at one of Germany’s largest universities that he influenced a whole generation of physicians, including Hoffmann and Stahl. (Between 1673 and 1721 the average attendance of the University of Jena was around 940 students. Roughly five percent of the student body was in medicine. See Franz Eulenburg. “Die Frequenz der deutschen Universitäten von ihrer Gründung bis zur Gegenwart,” in Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philologisch-Historische Klasse, 24 . no. 2 [1904].)


The most complete bibliography of Wedel’s publications appears in Johann Heinrich Zedler, ed., Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon…LIII (Graz, 1964), 1804-1820. An autobiographical statement written in 1672 is in the Archives of the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher, Leopoldina (Halle, German Democratic Republic).

For assessments of his life and work, see Fritz Chemnitius, Die Chemie in Jena von Rolfinck bis Knorr(Jena, 1929), 13–53; Ernst Giese and Benno von Hagen, Geschichte der medizinischen Fakultät der Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (Jena, 1958), 167–294; and Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York, 1958), VII, 196, 202, VIII, 146–443.

Karl Hufbauer