Episode 166: Alchemy After Dark
An engraving from Michael Maier's Symbola Aureae Mensae (1617) depicting an alchemical androgyne.
Alchemists are known for equally dreamy and practical pursuits—trying to turn base metals into gold and achieve immortality while also conducting the experiments that would lay the groundwork for modern chemistry. But it turns out the alchemists had another trick up their sleeves: speaking the language of love—and lust. On today's show we sit down with historian Joel Klein to find out why so many alchemy texts are rife with blush-inducing romantic and sexual metaphors. Then CHF's James Voelkel recites some of our favorite steamy passages.
00:00 Opening Credits
02:07 Interview: Joel Klein
13:27 Closing Credits
Special thanks to Joel Klein for researching this show. Also thanks to James Voelkel for lending his theatrical gifts.
For more about Isaac Newton's alchemical activities, visit The Chymistry of Isaac Newton.
Our theme music is composed by Andrew Chalfen. Additional music includes "Fugue," by Michael Maier and performed by the Atalanta Fugiens (Rachel Platt, Emily Van Evera, Rufus Müller, Richard Wistreich), and "Let's Get it On," by Marvin Gaye.
Image from Symbola Aureae Mensae, by Michael Maier, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Also available in CHF's collections.