Andreas Libavius and the Transformation of Alchemy
Separating Chemical Cultures with Polemical Fire

Bruce T. Moran

August 2007, vii+344 pp., cloth bound and jacketed, ISBN 978-0-88135-395-2, $49.50.

Andreas Libavius and the Transformation of Alchemy


“…Moran is focusing on something ignored by many intellectual historians: the personality of his historical actor. It may not be particularly pretty in Libavius’s case, but Moran demonstrates that his protagonist’s “outrageous rhetoric and disdainful conduct” (292) were an integral part of his achievements as a proponent of a particular vision of chymistry, in which Aristotle and artisanal expertise were combined with hermeticism, humanist philology, and a veritable inferno of polemical fire. Thus, as disagreeable as Libavius may seem to modern eyes, Moran’s study sheds much needed light on an important facet of early modern intellectual culture.”—The Sixteenth Century Journal,vol. XL (2009)

“…Moran convincingly demonstrates that Labavius is an important critical voice who raises significant critical issues concerning the composite nature of early modern chymical cultures and highlights the risk of trusting too much in simple, inflexible categorizations of practitioners. (It) is an excellent book, and I hope it stimulates far more research into one the chymistry’s most provocative characters.” —Isis 100:2 (2009)

“ Bruce Moran’s new book makes an important contribution to the history of science and technology by presenting a rigorous and nuanced interpretation of the chemical work of the German schoolteacher and humanist Andreas Libavius (about 1550—1616)…He reveals Libavius to be a pedagogue and humanist who valued the proper use of classical languages and clear reasoning above all else…by situating Libavius within his polemical cultural context, Moran calls into question the traditional interpretation of Libavius as a first step toward modern chemistry…” —Technology & Culture, April 2009

“…Most importantly, Moran’s impressive study reveals the vitality of Aristotelianism at the beginning of the Scientific Revolution and how the ancient philosophy contributed to the growing empiricism of the time. Moran’s discussion broadens our knowledge of the intricate relationships between learning, teaching, and doing, and how figures like Libavius who have become marginal in our own story of the past, may indeed be one way to understand that past.”—AHR, December 2008

“…Libavius is most well know for his work Alchemia (1597), which is considered by some to be the first systemic textbook on chemistry. Moran, however, does not limit himself to this single work and presents material from a fair number of lesser writings as well…a worthy addition to the collection of those studying this complicated period of the history of chemistry.”—Bull. Hist. Chem. v.33/2

“…Libavius is well known to historians of chemistry, primarily through the work of Owen Hannaway, who portrayed the pious schoolmaster as earnestly attempting to wrest the domain of chemistry from wild-eyed and epistemologically dangerous Hermetists and Paracelsians, and, in the process, transformed chemistry into a teachable discipline. Bruce Moran, thoroughly steeped in the rebarbative intellectual culture of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Germany…brings to light, not so much another side to Libavius, but much more evidence of Libavius’s valiant attempt…Moran is also able to convey the real intellectual curiosity, sometimes lost under all the polemic, with which Libavius and his correspondents puzzled out the interaction of matter and spirit, the problem of magnetism, and the mystery of vital powers in a bleeding corpse.”— Renaissance Quarterly

“…As Bruce Moran argues in…his majestic survey of Libavius’s life and work, Alchemia(1597) is by no means the key to Libavius’s role in chemical history…the book opens up a neglected period that chemical historians have been too eager to skate over in the rush to get from Paracelsus to Robert Boyle…”— Nature, 18 October 2007

“…That said, this is a work of solid and useful scholarship that throws up many interesting and challenging ideas. It is also, by a considerable margin, the fullest account to date in any language of Labavius’ personal history and broader influence…”—Aestimatio

Table of Contents

Introduction: Placing Libavius, Alchemy, and Chymistry

The School, the Schulfuchs, and the Habits of Language

“. . . et ut bene doceas, bene item distingue”: Distinguishing the True Art of Chymistry

One book opens another”: Texts, Enigmas, and Transmutation

Structures of Practice and Communities of Meaning: The Virile Assault of Nicolas Guibert

Libavius and Religion: Scripture and the Order of Nature

“Legal Disorder,” Testimony, and the Sites of Sound Judgement: Georg am Wald and Neoparacelsus

Saving Medicine by Taking a Beating— Paracelsian Deceit vs. Hermetic Certainty: Brawling with Georg Graman and Henning Scheunemann

A Sickle in a Foreign Field: Libavius and the Doctors at Paris

The Sons of Unknown Fathers: Medical Separations, Philosophical Mixtures, and The Triumph of Alchemy

“What kind of vanity is that?” Controversy and the Conceit of Revealed Knowledge: Defending Ancient Learning and the “Invisibles” of Nature

“They call us crazy”: Vital Philosophy and the Deficiency of the Arts

Aristotelian Possibilities: The “magisteria of occult qualities,” aurum potabile, and the Power of Vipers

Sorcery and an Uncertain Judgement about an Uncertain Thing: The Weapon Salve and Bleeding Cadavers

Alchemy, Artisans, and Personality in the History of Science and Medicine
Bibliography. Index