Brown Bag Lecture: “The Allegorical Laboratory: Michael Maier’s Alchemical Emblem Book Atalanta fugiens (1617), and the Art of Technology”

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Date: February 26, 2013
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free
RSVP Online: No Registration Required

A talk by Donna Bilak

CHF holds a 1618 edition of Michael Maier’s extraordinary alchemical emblem book, Atalanta fugiens, best known to historians of science for its 50 exquisite engravings of emblems that visually render the hermetic vocabulary. But Atalanta’s emblems are also paired with scored music for three voices—Atalanta, Hippomenes, and the Golden Apple, the three alchemical protagonists in Maier’s work who represent the elemental triad of Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt. Maier’s work has yet to be studied in its multimedial totality; moreover, scholarship has not advanced beyond considering Atalanta as a fantastical allegorical expression of hermetic philosophy. Drawing from the Othmer Library’s rich collection of rare alchemical treatises, this paper presents evidence demonstrating that Atalanta fugiens is an allegorically enciphered manual whose synthesis of music, image, and text fully articulates the alchemical system and delineates the laboratory procedure (and in certain emblems apparatus as well) used by adepts attempting to produce the philosophers’ stone, the great arcanum that would restore prelapsarian perfect health and longevity to humankind. Maier’s Atalanta fugiens thus exemplifies the intersection of alchemical theory and the technologies that defined early modern alchemical laboratory operations, and this investigation of Maier’s unique alchemical treatise opens up new dimensions to our understanding of premodern scientific practice.

Donna Bilak is a Ph.D. candidate at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City and is in the final writing stage of her dissertation, “The Chymical Cleric: Science, Theology, and the Praxis of John Allin, Puritan Alchemist in England and America (1623–1683).” Bilak’s research areas cover early modern history of science with a particular interest in alchemical laboratory process, as well as 19th- and early 20th-century history of jewelry design and technology. Her interest in Michael Maier’s unique alchemical emblem book, Atalanta fugiens, began at CHF in December 2011 while conducting research for her dissertation at the Othmer Library.


About Brown Bag Lectures

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.

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