Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present by Theodore Ziolkowski

By Theodore Ziolkowski

In contrast to so much different stories of alchemy and literature, which concentrate on alchemical imagery in poetry of particular classes or writers, this booklet strains the determine of the alchemist in Western literature from its first visual appeal within the 8th Circle of Dante's Inferno all the way down to the current. From the start alchemy has had facets: exoteric or operative (the transmutation of baser metals into gold) and esoteric or speculative (the religious transformation of the alchemist himself). From Dante to Ben Jonson, in the course of the centuries whilst the idea in exoteric alchemy was once nonetheless powerful and exploited through many charlatans to mislead the gullible, writers in significant works of many literatures handled alchemists with ridicule with the intention to divulge their tips. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, as that trust weakened, the determine of the alchemist disappeared, even supposing Protestant poets in England and Germany have been nonetheless keen on alchemical photographs. but if eighteenth-century technological know-how virtually fully undermined alchemy, the determine of the alchemist started to emerge back in literature--now as a humanitarian hero or as a spirit striving for sublimation. Following those esoteric romanticizations, as scholarly curiosity in alchemy intensified, writers have been drawn to the determine of the alchemist and his quest for energy. The fin-de-siecle observed an additional transformation as poets observed within the alchemist a logo for the poet in line with se and others, encouraged via the present spiritism, as a manifestation of the spiritual spirit. through the interwar years, as writers sought surrogates for the frequent lack of non secular religion, esoteric alchemy underwent a reported revival, and plenty of writers became to the determine of the alchemist as a religious version or, on the subject of Paracelsus in Germany, as a countrywide figurehead. This tendency, theorized by way of C. G. Jung in different significant reviews, encouraged after international warfare II an unlimited popularization of the determine in novels--historical, set within the current, or juxtaposing earlier and present-- in England, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, and the us. The inevitable results of this popularization used to be the trivialization of the determine in ads for therapeutic and cooking or in articles approximately scientists and economists. In sum: the determine of the alchemist in literature presents a seismograph for significant shifts in highbrow and cultural history.

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Extra resources for Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present

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He concludes by listing the alchemists upon whom the craft was based. “Hermes was on the ferst of alle, / To whom this art is most applied” (ll. 2606–7), followed by the Arab Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan), Ortolan (Hortulanus, presumably the fourteenth-century French writer Martin Lortholain), the Alexandrine Christian Morien (Morienus), and the Arab Avicen (Avicenna, or Abu ibn Sina), “which fond and wrot a gret partie / The practique of Alconomie” (ll. 2611–12). But their books are no longer understood.

46 The entire episode concerns this Canon’s successful plot to deceive an elderly London priest whose trust he initially wins by borrowing some gold and then returning it promptly on the third day. He promises to show the priest how he gets his gold by alchemy: by “mortifying” quicksilver in a crucible and adding “a poudre heer that coste me deere” (l. 1133). As the gullible priest concentrates on tending the fire, the Canon adds a bit of coal in which a piece of silver is concealed by a wax covering.

G. Little (Aberdeen: The University Press, 1912), 83–6 (“De expositione enigmatum alkimie”), here 86. 4 Opus tertium, 86. 5 The Opus majus of Roger Bacon, trans. Robert Belle Burke (Bristol: Thoemmes, 2000), vol. 2, 626. 77, 3). 7 Albertus Magnus, Book of Minerals, trans. Dorothy Wyckoff (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), 171–9, here 178. ”9 A century later Petrus Bonus in his Pretiosa margarita novella (1330) accepted the premise of transmutation but with the proviso that it could be accomplished only with the help of God.

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