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Harry Potter: Plants, People, & Potions: People

This libguide is in conjunction with the National Library of Medicine's traveling exhibit, Harry Potter's World, hosted at UCSD 5/6-6/16/12

Muggle People in a Magical World

From Chocolate Frog Trading cards to marble busts in the castle corridor, historical figures from the muggle world inspired some of J.K. Rowlings details.  Did you know that many of the wizard trading cards were based on real scientists and scholars?  For that matter, who wold have guessed that mandrake roots really were thought to have screaming creatures in their roots?

Test Yourself - the Scientists in Harry Potter

Okay - are you ready now?  Take the Who's Who quiz.

Harry Potter in the Current Medical Literature

Even though Harry Potter is not a real person, authors find inspiration in his story in a variety of ways.  For example, one article walks us through a differential diagnosis of Harry's headaches, discussing and explaining several possible conditions (and has a couple of follow up letters suggesting a different diagnosis.  Another author uses the Harry Potter stories as part of a research project examining the psychological connection and identification associated with stories.

Check the articles below for a peak at the recent medical literature from PubMed.

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Cornelius Agrippa

His full name is Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim and for centuries has inspired real and ficticious literary characters.  His belief that magic or occult sciences put him at odds with other thinkers of his day.

Occupation:  itinerant occultist, alchemist, lawyer, physician

Interests:  theology, helping others

Accomplishments:  Teacher - University of Dole, writer, often mentioned in literary works

BookDe Occulta Philosophia libri tres, 1533

Quotes:  “Magic comprises the most profound contemplation of the most secret things, their nature, power, quality, substance, and virtues, as well as the knowledge of their whole nature.”

Appearance in Harry Potter stories:  mentioned as one of the wizard trading cards that Ron Weazley did not yet have.


Nicholas Flamel

He devoted his life to understanding the text of a mysterious book he picked up on his travels.  It was filled with encoded alchemical symbols and is said to be to source of his creating the philosopher's stone.  As a man of wealth and longevity, many rumors circulated about his successfully creating the mythical stone.  While he traveled much, France was his home.

Occupation:  Scribe, manuscript seller, scholar

Accomplishments:  accomplished alchemist - creating the philospher's stone, maybe? life-long scholar (over 80 years old at his time of death)

Interests:  alchemy, philanthropy

Book:  Nicolas Flamel : his exposition of the hieroglyphicall figures

Quotes:  “…do not forget to pray to God to bestow on thee the understanding of the reason of the truth of nature…”

Appearance in Harry Potter stories:  creator of "the stone" in the first book and while not actually seen, Dumbledore reports talking with him.  That would have made him nearly 600 years old. 



Or, more properly, Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, was the medical radical of his day.  He openly challenged the medical educators of the day and many of the long held beliefs about health and illness (Galen's humours), and was quite vocal and demonstrative about it.  He believed that the body was a microcosm of nature and was one of the first to use chemicals and minerals in his remedies.  Originally from Switzerland, his travels took him all over his world.

Occupation:  traveling doctor

Accomplishments:  changing medicine - known as "father of chemistry," irritating just about everyone who ever met him

Book:  Paracelsvs of the supreme mysteries of nature. : Of the spirits of the planets. Occult philosophy. The magical, sympathetical, and antipathetical cure of wounds and diseases

Interests:  medicine, alchemy, biochemistry, astrology challenging status quo & being controversial

Quotes:  “All things that we use on earth let us use them for good and not for evil.”

Appearance in Harry Potter: On the wizard trading cards and as a bust in the Hogwarts castle (one Peeves was ready to drop on a students head). 

NLM's exhibit celebrating the 500th anniversary of Paracelsus' birth.


Ambroise Par

He is known as the "father of modern surgery" for his surgical philosophy and many surgical innovations. Hie believed that surgeies could be done much better and less invasively.  In addition, he wrote books and described the "wild beast" he saw on his travels.  Take a quick look at the images from his book, Les oeuures d'Ambroise Paré .

Occupation:  Surgeon, physician

Accomplishments:  surgical innovations & less invasive surgeries, creating prosthesis, testing the claims of Bezors (yes, they were real)

Book: The works of that famous chirurgeon Ambrose Par

Interests:  studying nature, drawing human anatomy & animals

Quotes:  "I treated him, but God healed him."

Appearance in Harry Potter:  trading card


Konrad Gesner

A thorough researcher and cataloger of plants, animals, and works of science, he is credited with the beginning of zoology.  His research notes for each animal include their place in nature as well as their name in various languages and he included ancient accounts as listed in the Bible, folk lore, or from scholars.  For example, his research notes for the unicorn state, “stories about the medicinal values of a unicorn’s horn, especially that it is an antidote to poisons, may have originated from similar Asian beliefs about the rhinoceros horn.”

Occupation:  professor, naturalist, physician

Accomplishments: extensive zoological record, cataloging works in Latin, Greek, & Hebrew, and cataloging 130 different languages

Book:  Historiae Animalium, 5 volumes;  print version in Special Collections

Interests: animal drawing (even a basilisk), animal dissection, cataloging uses of animals (or parts) in medical preparations

Quotes:  “I have noticed a relationship between science and natural philosophy…those writings interest me the most which deal with minerals, plants, and animals.”

Appearance in Harry Potter:  Trading card, probably Hagrid's favorite, don't you think?