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The Alchemist in LiteratureFrom Dante to the Present$
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Theodore Ziolkowski

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198746836

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198746836.001.0001

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Introduction, or Materia Prima

Introduction, or Materia Prima

(p.1) 1 Introduction, or Materia Prima
The Alchemist in Literature

Theodore Ziolkowski

Oxford University Press

Following an introductory survey of its contemporary popularity, this chapter discusses those elements of alchemy that are necessary for the understanding of the literary examples in the following chapters: the exoteric or operative theory of the generation of stones and minerals, which justified the transformation of baser metals to gold; the esoteric or speculative theory of the correspondence of macro- and microcosm, which underlay the spiritualization of physical alchemy as an image for transformation of the self; the basic operations and tools of the magnum opus and the literary analogies adduced to illustrate them; and the historical origins of alchemy when the Greeks provided a theory (Hermes’ Art) to explain Egyptian chemical practices.

Keywords:   magnum opus, macrocosm and microcosm, spiritualization, Hermes’ Art, materia prima

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