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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

Chapter:
(p.1) 1 Introduction, or Materia Prima
Source:
The Alchemist in Literature
Author(s):

Theodore Ziolkowski

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198746836.003.0001

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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