By Theodore Ziolkowski
Not like such a lot different reports of alchemy and literature, which concentrate on alchemical imagery in poetry of particular sessions or writers, this ebook 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 features: exoteric or operative (the transmutation of baser metals into gold) and esoteric or speculative (the non secular transformation of the alchemist himself). From Dante to Ben Jonson, through the centuries while the idea in exoteric alchemy used to be nonetheless powerful and exploited by means of many charlatans to mislead the gullible, writers in significant works of many literatures handled alchemists with ridicule on the way to reveal their tips. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, as that trust weakened, the determine of the alchemist disappeared, although Protestant poets in England and Germany have been nonetheless keen on alchemical photos. but if eighteenth-century technological know-how virtually entirely 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 interested in the determine of the alchemist and his quest for strength. The fin-de-siecle observed one other transformation as poets observed within the alchemist a logo for the poet consistent with se and others, prompted through the present spiritism, as a manifestation of the spiritual spirit. in the course of the interwar years, as writers sought surrogates for the frequent lack of non secular religion, esoteric alchemy underwent a said revival, and lots of writers grew to become to the determine of the alchemist as a religious version or, when it comes to Paracelsus in Germany, as a countrywide figurehead. This tendency, theorized by means of C. G. Jung in different significant reviews, encouraged after global conflict 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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Additional resources for Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present
Satirizations, or Nigredo 25 se tant ne fet qu’el les ramaine a leur matire prumeraine. (ll. ) Here we recognize the key term materia prima, and a few lines later we learn that Art, even should she attain that ﬁrst stage, would never succeed in making the “elixir” (l. 16,047: “quant el feroit son elixir”). Nevertheless, the passage continues, alchemy is a true art (l. 16,054: “alkimie est art veritable”) because, even if it cannot create life as Nature does, it can achieve transformations that place matters into different species and deprive them of their primary species (ll.
Here the two speakers are laughing at the tribulations of a mutual acquaintance. For all his other gifts, Lalus says, the wealthy Balbinus has one conspicuous blemish (“naevus” or “mole” on the body): an addiction to alchemy. Philecous replies that surely that is not simply a “blemish” but, rather, a major disease (“insignem morbum”). Lalus then recounts how Balbinus was cheated by a certain priest (“sacerdos quidam”), who—not unlike Chaucer’s second Canon—approached him with a shrewd modesty and confessed that he had learned “the innermost core of all philosophy” (“totius Philosophiae medullam”): alchemy.
49 The passage occurs in a section, “Discoverers and Inventors,” sandwiched between music, sculpture, metallurgy and other crafts, and language and literature, where the confessor tells the lover that he should take heed of Ovid’s works. The confessor begins with the deﬁnition of “Alconomie, / Wherof the Selver multeplie / Thei made and ek the gold also” (ll. 2459–61). Like Chaucer, he explains that matter consists “Of bodies sevene in special / With foure spiritz joynt withal” (ll. 2463–4) and goes on to associate the seven metals with their characteristic planets.
Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present by Theodore Ziolkowski