Renaissance alchemy and astrology




Alchemy: Renaissance Alchemy

This German university town gets several name checks in the play. Usher sees this as references to Copernicanism because Rheticus, who persuaded Copernicus to publish, had studied and taught at Wittenberg. There are a couple of obvious flaws in this argument. Firstly Rheticus had left Wittenberg before the publication of De revolutionibus , in which he is incidentally never mentioned, to become professor of mathematics in Leipzig. Secondly Wittenberg was by no means a centre of Copernican scholarship, Luther and Melanchthon being both on record as opposing heliocentricity.

Is there another reason for Shakespeare to feature Wittenberg in a play about the Danish court? In fact there is. The court language in Denmark was not Danish but German and although Copenhagen had its own Lutheran university it was common practice for the Danish aristocracy to send its sons abroad for their education. See a bit of the world whilst getting your degree. Because Denmark was a strongly Lutheran country Wittenberg, home of Luther and the Reformation, was the most popular destination for young Danish aristocrats to acquire their foreign university experience.

For those not in the know handsaw is thought to be a typo for hernshaw a kind of heron. For Usher this rather enigmatic passage is interpreted to mean that for someone on Hven when the wind comes from north-north-west this means Elsinore the home of Claudius and Ptolemaic astronomy, so madness, whereas a wind from the south means Wittenberg the home of Copernicanism.

Within traditional geocentric astronomy, astrology and alchemy the sun played a special role for very obvious reasons. The sun determines day and night, it defines the year, it brings light and warmth, it is by far and away the most prominent body in the sky do I really need to go one. I will add one astronomical note for those philologists who are apparently too lazy to read up on the history of the subject.

In geocentric cosmology the sun was regarded as the ruler of the planets because, in the most commonly accepted order of the orbits, it occupies the central position in the heavens with three inner plants and three outer planets below and above it. At the end of his chapter on Usher Falk tries a bait and switch. What now follows in a chapter on Galileo and the telescopic discoveries made around ; in itself not a bad retelling of well-known material. We start with astrology and here he fall on his nose at the first hurdle. Falk tells us:. Natural astrology was, in fact, something like straight-ahead astronomy; it focused on tracking and predicting the motions of the sun, moon, and planets.

Astronomy focused on tracking and predicting the motions of the sun, moon, and planets. In fact astrology has four major divisions that go back to antiquity and were not first developed in Renaissance England. These are judicial astrology, electional astrology, horary astrology and natural astrology.

Alchemy & Medical Astrology in Clinical Herbalism (Breitenbush Herb Conference 2016)

Judicial or natal astrology is more or less as Falk describes it. Electional astrology is the casting of horoscopes to determine the correct or propitious time or date to start an undertaking. When should one marry, when lay the foundation stone of a building or new town, when to undertake a journey or even when to start a military campaign. Horary astrology is the attempt to answer questions by astrologers casting horoscopes upon receipt of the question.

This is the classic detective story astrology used to detect thieves or to discover the hiding place of stolen goods. Natural astrology is the branch of astrology that deals with the things of the natural world i. Theses division are important in the history of astrology, as there were extensive debates and disputes as to the validity of each of them, each of the four having its own champions and opponents. Interestingly even the strongest opponents of astrology in general in the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance tended to accept the validity of natural astrology whilst simultaneously launching vitriolic invective against the widespread judicial astrology.

I was particularly irritated by statements that Carl Sagen or Richard Dawkins would find favour with a particular anti-astrology speech or Neil deGrasse Tyson and Laurence Krauss would applaud a piece of scepticism. I found these comments out of place and quite frankly somewhat bizarre.

After astrology we turn to magic. Towards the end of the chapter Falk does briefly discuss the difference between demonic and natural magic but his definition of natural magic is even more wrong than his definition of natural astrology. Even worse Falk talks about astrology as being magic. This is within the context of a book on Renaissance history a serious category mistake. Astrology is not a form of magic.

Falk makes the same category mistake as he discusses alchemy in this chapter. Alchemy gets dismissed in a couple of short paragraphs somewhat of a disappointment as alchemy played a very central role in Elizabethan learned society, with even Elizabeth herself a practicing alchemist. It was all part of a package; all were thoroughly intertwined in the sixteenth century, and even into the early years of the seventeenth. However I find it slightly sad that Falk choses to illustrate this with a quick sketch of the live and work of Johannes Kepler.

An adequate treatment of the subject as far as it goes but neither here nor in his discussion of astrology does Falk even mention let alone discuss astro-medicine. This is a strange omission as astrological medicine was one of the dominant directions in medical practice in Shakespearean times. This chapter contains the strangest claim in the whole book. In the penultimate chapter Falk takes a sharp left turn. All that Falk can deliver is one instance of the word atomi in Romeo and Juliet.


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Unfortunately, this high opinion of The Swerve is not shared by many historians of medieval philosophy including one guest author here at The Renaissance Mathematicus. Falk now introduces us to the sixteenth-century French essayist Montaigne trying to conceive him as a modern scientific skeptic, again gratuitously name dropping some actual ones, this time Laurence Krauss and Stephen Hawking.

He does however admit that the attempt is at best dubious. He lets us know that Montaigne briefly refers to Copernicus, noting that there are now two possible cosmologies however reflecting that maybe in a thousand years a third model will come along and overthrow both of them. For this insight Falk credits Montaigne with being a sixteenth-century Karl Popper. There is however method in all this.

There is no must about it. The final chapter of the book goes off on another tangent, this time in the direction of atheism. We get a potted history of atheism in the Early Modern Period and parallel to it a synopsis of how lacking in hope King Lear is. At the latest here, it becomes clear that Falk wishes to recreate Shakespeare as a sort of sixteenth-century Richard Dawkins. Enthusiastically embracing, albeit secretly, the new mode of scientific thinking and rejecting humanities dependency on god.

Although this is not a an academic book its subject matter is of an academic nature so I think it is fair to ask about the academic apparatus, foot- or endnotes, bibliography and index. That is endnotes giving sources for direct quotes in the text but without indications quote numbers in the text that they exist. This is possibly the worst solution to the notes problem that exists and I abhor it. I also found several direct quotes in the text for which no endnote exists. What makes this choice even stranger is that the text also has spasmodic footnotes referring to quotes in the text.

Why some quotes earn footnotes and others hanging endnotes is not at all clear to me. The bibliography is quite extensive and gives ample evidence of the work that Falk has obviously invested in his book. There is no index! On the whole I found the book well written, entertaining and informative. It is not free of errors but very few popular books on the history of science ever are. One of the very positive aspects of the book is that when even Falk presents a speculative theory concerning some aspect of science and a Shakespearean play he makes very clear that it is speculative and also presents alternative explanations for the text in question leaving it up to the readers to decide for themselves whether to accept the proffered hypothesis or not.

On the whole I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it as a stimulating read for anybody interested in the subject matter, although they should be on their toes whilst reading. Our Google expert delivers the following gem:.

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The fact that John Maynard Keynes believed in alchemy does not validate it, it instead shows us what was wrong with Keynes-ian economic beliefs. In theses few lines Mr Campbell truly displays his total ignorance of subject he is pontificating about. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I stated in the previous post Newton began his intensive study of alchemy in and continued it till He wrote the Principia in somewhat of a frenzy between and , that is in two thirds of the way through his alchemy studies.


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Newton conceived and wrote the Principia during a period in the history of science when the mechanical philosophy was totally dominant. This stated quite clearly that if object A moved as a result of object B then there must exist a mechanical contact between the two objects. Newton was originally a supporter of the mechanical philosophy and as such would have been incapable of accepting his own later theory of gravity.

What gave him the ability to go against the trend and embrace action at a distance? You guessed it, his study of alchemy. They accused him of reintroducing the occult meaning hidden forces into natural philosophy that they had banished. On these grounds whilst admiring the mathematical ingenuity of the Principia they rejected its central thesis. I shall ignore both the economics and the eugenics as non sequitur in a discussion on the history of alchemy. By totally misrepresenting alchemy and labelling it just pseudo-science Campbell thinks we dispense with it once and for all.

Filed under History of Alchemy , Newton.

Lost Secrets of Renaissance Medicine Conference IV

On the 11 th February the Hellenistic science of alchemy entered medieval Europe by way of the Islamic empire. In his translation of Liber de compositione alchemiae Book about the composition of alchemy Robert of Chester wrote the following:. I have translated this Book because, what alchemy is, and what its composition is, almost no one in our Latin [that is: Western] world knows finished February 11 th anno This was the start of long and popular period for alchemy within Europe, which reached its peak during the Renaissance during which alchemy gave birth to its daughter, modern chemistry.

Rejected during the Enlightenment, along with astrology and magic, as a worthless occult science, alchemy was largely ignored by historian as superstitious nonsense not worthy of serious attention. The last decades have seen a rebirth of interest in alchemy by historians of science led by such prominent historians as Lawrence Principe, William Newman, Bruce Moran and Pamela H. This essay is a very much-shortened version of chapter four of his book, Redefinitions, Revivals, and Reinterpretations: Alchemy from the Eighteenth Century to the Present.

The first thing I would note is that before writing his piece Campbell appears to have done his research at the Google University, beloved source of wisdom of vaccine deniers, climate change deniers, anti-evolutionists and other members of the Internet Luniverse. His piece would have benefitted immensely if he had read some of the books written by Principe, Newman, Moran et al.

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The whole of the opening paragraphs displays strong Google University influence containing as it does half information that is mostly at least half wrong. There are various conflicting etymologies for the word alchemy or better said the word chemy as al is purely the Arabic definite article. Principe thinks the Greek root cheimeia is the most likely as alchemy in antiquity was Greco-Egyptian, that is it was developed in Egypt but written in Greek. Like those in the eighteenth century who, as Principe tells us, tried to distance chemistry from alchemy Campbell falsely identifies alchemy with the transmutation of metals, correctly called chrysopoeia, whereas seventeenth century alchemy encompassed a wide range of activities including all of that, which in the early eighteenth century became chemistry.

Even more bizarre in the following paragraph:. You know which group was also ridiculed, even until the mids?

History of Alchemy | The Renaissance Mathematicus

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Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Florentine and European Renaissance

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