On 12 December 2013, the world lost the scholar most knowledgeable about all things pertaining to German alchemy from the late middle ages to the twentieth century: Joachim Telle. While this sad event already took place half a year ago, I learnt about it at a staff meeting a few months ago and have only now been able to read a complete eulogy in the new issue of Ambix, released online this morning. I had the pleasure of meeting Telle in September 2012, at a research workshop on alchemy at the Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, and remember him as a passionate teacher and true character with rough edges, as very helpful, sociable and lively. As Telle exclusively wrote in German and blazed many trails for my own research, I’d like to introduce my readers to some of his pioneering work and dedicate this post to his memory.
As the international student representative of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry and lead organizer of this year’s postgraduate workshop, I would like to draw my readers’ attention to the following call for papers. It would have been a great opportunity for the reblog feature but, alas, it doesn’t work for ambix.org where I’ve also posted a few minutes ago. Anyway, as Judith Mawer (University of Exeter) and myself penned it, with a lot of insightful and patient advice from our predecessor Jo Hedesan (Oxford University), I feel few qualms about also posting it on my personal blog. Without further ado: Continue reading
Writing for the Amsterdam stage, David Lingelbach (b. 1641)—himself the son of a German expatriate and artist—published a play entitled The Converted Alchemist, or: The Betrayed Fraud in 1680. It is but one out of eleven plays he wrote under the banner of Nil Volentibus Arduum (‘Nothing is arduous for the willing’), a literary society active between 1669 and 1687 to spread the ideals of French classicist theatre in the Low Countries and otherwise known primarily for lack of talent. Thirty-four years later (1714), the self-appointed literary heir to Nil Volentibus Arduum, Ysbrand Vincent (d. 1718), published an improved, second edition that added greater poignancy to an intriguing intercultural encounter less explicit in the original printing: it tells the story of a Dutch widower, Govert, ‘naïve and unskilled in alchemy’, and his encounter with Squire Goudschalk (literally, ‘gold jester’), ‘a German, fraud and pretended alchemist of great experience’. And by the same token it provides us with a glimpse of some associations alchemy carried in early eighteenth-century Amsterdam.
Even though it sounds frightful, don’t panic: there was no terminator-style attack on this blog (as yet and to my knowledge). But some readers might remember that this blog adopted its name from a 1733 publication entitled Microcosmic Preludes. This work was falsely attributed to Johann Conrad Dippel (1673–1734), whose ‘Real Frankenstein Potential’ is still up for further investigation. Even though that attribution is almost as old as the book itself and many library catalogues still list Dippel as the author, he was in fact furious at this supposition and published a refutation of the entire work in the very same year. Under the menacing title Orthodox Annihilator (1733), this treatise also contained his own, somewhat paranoid conjectures as to who had written the Microcosmic Preludes and how his own name had come to be associated with them.
As the last quarter of the seventeenth century began, the astrological calendar-printing scene in Germany saw the sudden appearance of not just one but four Egyptian interpreters of the stars. (Actually, one of them claimed to be Persian instead.) Though usually published in large print-runs of several thousands, these almanacs with forecasts on the weather, politics, economy, family matters, good days for blood-letting or hair-cuts for the whole year were literally read to shreds (or put to other uses, some of them related to excrement) and so precious few of them have survived. The trade surrounding them was hugely competitive, hence crafty publishers picked their astrologer carefully. And even with a qualified expert, all things being equal, a little exotic lustre or mysterious scent could make all the difference in attracting the attention of the buying public at a loss to assess the respective merits of various calendars. An extraordinary authorial persona might well do the trick: meet, for instance, ‘Abdiel Bavai, presently astrologer in Alexandria, Egypt,’ or ‘Necho of Cairo in Egypt’. Most intriguingly, there was also a lady astrologer by the foreknowledgeable name of Sibylla Ptolomaein ‘from Alexandria in Egypt.
There’s always the danger that blogs turn into some kind of navel-gazing, solipstistic monologue. To avoid that, I’d like to draw attention to two conferences in 2014 that I’m already excited about—in yet another soliloquy. Continue reading