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By Theodore Ziolkowski

Not like so much different experiences of alchemy and literature, which concentrate on alchemical imagery in poetry of particular classes or writers, this publication strains the determine of the alchemist in Western literature from its first visual appeal within the 8th Circle of Dante's Inferno right 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 religious transformation of the alchemist himself). From Dante to Ben Jonson, in the course of the centuries while the idea in exoteric alchemy used to be nonetheless robust and exploited via many charlatans to lie to the gullible, writers in significant works of many literatures taken care of alchemists with ridicule with a view to disclose their tips. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, as that trust weakened, the determine of the alchemist disappeared, even if Protestant poets in England and Germany have been nonetheless keen on alchemical pictures. but if eighteenth-century technology 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 interested in the determine of the alchemist and his quest for strength. 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, inspired through the present spiritism, as a manifestation of the spiritual spirit. in the course of the interwar years, as writers sought surrogates for the common lack of spiritual religion, esoteric alchemy underwent a reported revival, and plenty of writers grew to become to the determine of the alchemist as a non secular version or, with regards to Paracelsus in Germany, as a countrywide figurehead. This tendency, theorized through C. G. Jung in different significant reports, encouraged after global conflict 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 was once 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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1, 297–9. 28 The Alchemist in Literature away contemptuously: “semper rebus aliquid defuerit, dolis nihil” (“Something necessary will always be lacking, but never deceit”). 37 But his treatment of alchemy in The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale of his Canterbury Tales (1390–1400) is not only much more extensive; it constitutes the comic masterpiece of the late Middle Ages. 42 What is the role of this tale and what is its relationship to the other tales? These are matters to be left to the Chaucer specialists.

1469–70). Thus, the Yeoman concludes, if God does not want the philosophers to reveal how men should obtain the stone, then it is best to let it go. 47 But since it is still the untutored Yeoman who in his confusion conflates Christianity and Greek philosophy, it is perhaps unwarranted to draw conclusions from his remarks about Chaucer’s beliefs. Similarly, the Yeoman cites dozens of alchemical terms for equipment, materials, and procedures, but these occur in far too random a manner to justify any conclusions regarding Chaucer’s actual experience of alchemy.

Thompson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 238–45. 40 The Alchemist in Literature Both Brant and Erasmus satirized alchemists and warned against their fraudulence but had nothing to say about alchemy as such. Another writer from those years, in contrast, focused entirely on the alchemist’s training and career: Salomon Trismosin, allegedly the teacher of Paracelsus and principal author of the Aureum vellus or “Golden Fleece,” which, in circulation from 1490 onward, was published in 1598 as the first part of the important collection Eröffnete Geheimnisse des Steins der Weisen oder Schatzkammer der Alchemie (“Secrets Unveiled of the Philosopher’s Stone or Treasury of Alchemy”).

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