Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire

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University of Chicago Press, Sep 15, 2008 - Science - 256 pages
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What distinguished the true alchemist from the fraud? This question animated the lives and labors of the common men—and occasionally women—who made a living as alchemists in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Holy Roman Empire. As purveyors of practical techniques, inventions, and cures, these entrepreneurs were prized by princely patrons, who relied upon alchemists to bolster their political fortunes. At the same time, satirists, artists, and other commentators used the figure of the alchemist as a symbol for Europe’s social and economic ills.

Drawing on criminal trial records, contracts, laboratory inventories, satires, and vernacular alchemical treatises, Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire situates the everyday alchemists, largely invisible to modern scholars until now, at the center of the development of early modern science and commerce. Reconstructing the workaday world of entrepreneurial alchemists, Tara Nummedal shows how allegations of fraud shaped their practices and prospects. These debates not only reveal enormously diverse understandings of what the “real” alchemy was and who could practice it; they also connect a set of little-known practitioners to the largest questions about commerce, trust, and intellectual authority in early modern Europe.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
1 Assembling Expertise
17
2 The Alchemists Personae
40
3 Entrepreneurial Alchemy
73
4 Contracting the Philosophers Stone
96
5 Laboratories Space and Secrecy
119
6 Betrüger on Trial
147
The Problem of Authority
177
Notes
181
Selected Bibliography
235
Index
255
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About the author (2008)

Tara Nummedal is assistant professor of history at Brown University

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