Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire by Tara Nummedal

By Tara Nummedal

What uncommon the real alchemist from the fraud? this question lively the lives and labors of the typical men—and sometimes women—who made a residing as alchemists within the 16th- and seventeenth-century Holy Roman Empire. As purveyors of useful suggestions, innovations, and treatments, those marketers have been prized by means of princely buyers, who relied upon alchemists to strengthen their political fortunes. whilst, satirists, artists, and different commentators used the determine of the alchemist as a logo for Europe’s social and financial ills.

Drawing on legal trial files, contracts, laboratory inventories, satires, and vernacular alchemical treatises, Alchemy and Authority within the Holy Roman Empire situates the standard alchemists, principally invisible to trendy students in the past, on the middle of the advance of early glossy technological know-how and trade. Reconstructing the workaday global of entrepreneurial alchemists, Tara Nummedal indicates how allegations of fraud formed their practices and customers. those debates not just display vastly different understandings of what the “real” alchemy used to be and who may possibly perform it; in addition they attach a collection of little-known practitioners to the biggest questions about trade, belief, and highbrow authority in early glossy Europe.

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Dorn, in particular, played a key role in identifying, publishing, and interpreting (sometimes also falsifying) Paracelsian manuscripts. 35 The Danish physician Petrus Severinus (ca. 1542–1602) also contributed to the efforts to make Paracelsus’s vast writings comprehensible. In his 1571 Idea medicinae philosophicae (Idea of Philosophical Medicine), Severinus synthesized Paracelsus’s work and distilled from it a coherent medical system comparable (in his view) to Galen’s and Aristotle’s. 36 The mid-1570s saw the publication of three “onomastica,” or thematic lexica, of Paracelsus’s unique terminology by Michael Toxites, Leonhard Thurneisser, and Adam von Bodenstein.

Not surprisingly, this diversity meant that what practitioners understood to be “alchemy” included a variety of practices, skills, and knowledge bases. Today, we think of many of these as something else—pharmacy, perhaps, or metallurgy. In the early modern context, however, the only appropriate defi nition of alchemy is one that encompasses all of these activities and ideas. Although practitioners began to take sides on this issue as the sixteenth century came to a close, the battle to determine what alchemy would be was still far from won.

36 The mid-1570s saw the publication of three “onomastica,” or thematic lexica, of Paracelsus’s unique terminology by Michael Toxites, Leonhard Thurneisser, and Adam von Bodenstein. 37 Finally, in 1589–90, Johannes Huser (before 1545–ca. 1600) issued Paracelsus’s collected works. 38 This fi rst generation of Paracelsians and their efforts to explicate and publicize the reformer’s ideas were essential to his success and prominence as the seventeenth century began. 24 chapter one Paracelsus’s place in the pantheon of alchemical authorities was always ambiguous for those who prized alchemy primarily for its promise to transmute metals.

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