By Theodore Ziolkowski
Not like so much different reports of alchemy and literature, which concentrate on alchemical imagery in poetry of particular sessions 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 points: 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 used to be nonetheless robust and exploited through many charlatans to mislead the gullible, writers in significant works of many literatures taken care of alchemists with ridicule to be able to disclose 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 photos. but if eighteenth-century technological know-how nearly utterly 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 yet another transformation as poets observed within the alchemist an emblem for the poet consistent with se and others, stimulated via the existing spiritism, as a manifestation of the non secular spirit. through the interwar years, as writers sought surrogates for the common lack of non secular religion, esoteric alchemy underwent a mentioned revival, and lots of writers grew to become to the determine of the alchemist as a religious version or, in terms of Paracelsus in Germany, as a countrywide figurehead. This tendency, theorized through C. G. Jung in numerous significant stories, encouraged after global warfare II an enormous popularization of the determine in novels--historical, set within the current, or juxtaposing previous and present-- in England, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, and the U.S.. 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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Additional resources for Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present
But Balbinus, instead of having him imprisoned, out of shame gives him additional money with the plea to go away and not to divulge the matter. The impostor gladly does so, knowing that he was in no danger in any case: his status as priest would save him from the scaffold, and the court would not want the expense of keeping him in jail. 56 Colloquiorum Desiderii Erasmi Roterdami familiarum opus aureum (London, 1676), 216–22. See also The Colloquies of Erasmus, trans. Craig R. Thompson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 238–45.
Satirizations, or Nigredo 23 In sum, the ﬁrst wave of alchemy in the strictest sense—belief in the transmutation of metals—covered roughly six centuries, rising from the twelfth-century rediscovery to its Baroque apex around 1600 and then tapering off again until its dismissal by most scientists at the time of the French Revolution. This exoteric or operative alchemy, which soon attracted charlatans who exploited the credulity of those eager for a quick fortune in gold, was deﬂected by Paracelsus into iatrochemy.
It maketh multiplicacioun / Of gold, and the ﬁxacioun / It causeth” (ll. 2573–5). This was the case in former days when men were wise. But now, although men speak of the stone, they do not know how to make it. They spend fortunes: Which bringeth in poverte and dette To hem that riche were afore: The lost is had, the lucre is lore, To gete a pound thei spenden fyve. (ll. 2588–91) 48 John Gower, The English Works, ed. G. C. Macaulay (London: Oxford University Press, 1900), vol. 1. 49 Theatrum chemicum Britannicum, 470.