Literatures of Alchemy in Medieval and Early Modern England
Title Details

228 Pages

21.6 x 14 cm

5 b/w illus.

Imprint: D.S.Brewer

Literatures of Alchemy in Medieval and Early Modern England

by Eoin Bentick

  • Description
  • Contents
Explores the myriad ways in which alchemy was conceptualised by adepts and sceptics alike, from those with recourse to a fully functioning laboratory to those who did not know their pelican from their athanor!

The language of alchemy (the art of transmuting metals and manufacturing pharmaceutical medicine) is defined by obscure imagery, authorial play and dense knottiness, tempting curious readers to unpick its impenetrable promises. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, alchemical literature was read, interpreted and reimagined both by those with recourse to a fully functioning laboratory and those who did not know their pelican from their athanor.
Recent studies by historians of science have succeeded in decoding the difficult language of these texts, revealing the replicable chemical procedures behind their metaphors. However, as a literary investigation of alchemy, this book explores more fluid understandings of the art in the period. Through an analysis of medieval and early modern texts and manuscript cultures, the volume explores the myriad ways in which alchemy was conceptualised in this period, by adept and sceptic alike. From Geoffrey Chaucer's mockery of the impotence of alchemical 'pryvetee' in The Canterbury Tales, and John Gower's macrocosmic hope for societal amelioration in the Confessio Amantis, to Elias Ashmole's angelic alchemy in the Theatrum chemicum britannicum, it explores the natural philosophy that underpinned such diverse representations of this 'slidynge science', proffering a theory of 'alchemical hermeneutics' as a conspiratorial way of reading that sees alchemy in all.
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgements
Editorial Practice
List of Abbreviations

Introduction

Chapter 1. Ignotum Per Ignocius: Literatures of Alchemical Impotence
Sinners, Tricksters and Fools: Conceptions of Alchemists in the Fourteenth Century
Playing with Obscurity: Chaucer's Manipulation of the Tabula chemica and the Liber de secretis naturae
Impotent Alchemical 'Pryvetee'

Chapter 2. Alchemical Theories of Social Reform
Roger Bacon's Holistic Alchemy
John Gower's Moral Alchemy
Thomas Norton's Alchemical King

Chapter 3. British Library, MS Harley 2407
Recipe-Poems
Gnomic Poems
Theoretical Poems
Conceit-Poems

Chapter 4. Alchemical Hermeneutics
Augustine and Medieval Hermeneutics
Alchemical Afterlives
He that Hath Ears to Hear

Conclusion

Bibliography

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Title Details

228 Pages

2.16 x 1.4 cm

5 b/w illus.

Imprint: D.S.Brewer