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Harry Potter and the History of Alchemy, 2015

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Joel Klein

on 29 January 2015

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Transcript of Harry Potter and the History of Alchemy, 2015

Renaissance Science,Alchemy, and Medicine
Aurora Consurgens
"Rising Dawn," 15th c. Zürich, Zentralbibliothek
Ms. Rh. 172.
Harry Potter's World:
Dr. Joel A. Klein
Columbia U. Dept. of History
Chemical Heritage Foundation

Philosopher's Stone
The Origins of Alchemy
Alchemy dates to the Hellenistic period in Egypt
Leiden and Stockholm Papyri (c. 300 CE)
Zosimos of Panopolis (c. 3rd-4th c.)
"Decknamen" - Cover names
Mercury: "The silvery water, the hermaphrodite, that which flees without ceasing..."
Das Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit
(Book of the Holy Trinity)
BSB Cgm 598
15th c., not before 1467
* Attrib. to Frater Ulmannus
* Images from Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Germany
* pdf avail. online at bsb-muenchen.de
The Rosarium Philosophorum
Frankfurt, 1550
Atalanta Fugiens
George Starkey, a.k.a.
Eirenaeus Philalethes
One of the most famous alchemists of the 17th century
Born in Bermuda, 1628
Attended Harvard
Sir Isaac Newton
"...In the first laborious preparation our crude sperm flows from three substances of which two are extracted out of the earth of their nativity by the third and then become a pure milky virgin-like nature drawn from the menstruum [i.e. menstrual blood] of our sordid whore...."
Heated in Furnace
If the stibnite
was heated
with iron
(Antimony Trisulphide)

Metallic Antimony
Michael Maier, 1617/18
Further Reading
Where we're going:
Meanings; Science?
What was Alchemy?
Connections with Potter?
Images and Imagery.
"Ripley Scroll," circa 1570. Mellon MS 41, Yale U. Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Transmutation of base metals into gold or silver

Possibly heal all disease

Possibly grant long life
Image of Stockholm Papyrus from Earle R. Caley & William B. Jensen, "Greco-Egyptian Chemical Documents From the Early 4th C. AD," (Cincinnati: Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry, 2008). Avail. online at che.uc.edu
Images from archive.org
Images from e-codices.unifr.ch (Creative Commons)
Michael Maier,
Atalanta Fugiens
, 1617
Text available (Creative Commons) at e-rara.ch
Newton's portrait from Wikimedia Commons; Keynes MS. 21 used with permission of Chymistry of Isaac Newton
Images from Wikimedia Commons &
The Chymistry of Isaac Newton
"I've never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that's a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I've learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I'll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories' internal logic."
~ J.K Rowling
Question 1:
What is the major difference between the titles of the UK edition and the US edition of the first Potter book?
- Alchemy ≠ Transmutation
- Alkahest: Universal Solvent

Alchemy Was Also:
Arabic Alchemy
Translation, e.g. in 'House of Wisdom
1000 CE, nearly all Greek nat. phil. & medicine
Arabic: al-kīmiyā’
Mercury & Sulfur
Jabir Ibn Hayyan (8th or 9th c.)
Alchemy in the Latin West
Robert of Ketton -
De Compositione Alchemiae,
Summa Perfectionis of 'Geber'
Changes in the High Middle Ages
Alchemy becomes more esoteric
Relationship b/t alchemy and Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah strengthened
Which character from Harry Potter has a name that is almost identical to the name of the alleged ancient author of the Emerald Tablet?
"That which is below is like that which is above; that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing ... The Sun is its father, the moon its mother…"

Emerald Tablet, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus
Who was the famous achemist who was alleged to have written an important alchemical text in the 14th or 15th century, and was the basis for a character in the first Harry Potter book?
Nicolas Flamel
Flamel's gravestone
ca. 1330-1418
Scribe/ Manuscript seller

Buckbeak, a hippogriff, had the head of an eagle and body, hind legs, and tail of a horse. If his hind parts were replaced by a lion, what mythical creature would he have been?
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Who was the founder of the house associated with this mythical creature?
According to a major character in Harry Potter, this mythical animal "can carry immensely heavy loads [and] their tears have healing powers"?
Which mythical animal from the Harry Potter series is pictured here?
According to his chocolate frog card, this alchemist was partnered with Nicolas Flamel, was famous for his discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and as we learn from an article by Rita Skeeter, was “Gold Medal-Winner for Ground-Breaking Contribution to the International Alchemical Conference in Cairo.”
Who is the author of these manuscript notes?
"This chaos is called our Arsenic... but in diverse respect, because our matter undergoes various states before our Regal Diadem is extracted from the menstrual blood of our whore. So learn who the comrades of Cadmus are, and who the Serpent who ate them, [and] what the hollow oak, on which Cadmus transfixed the Serpent. Learn what the Doves of Diana are, which conquer the Lion by beating him, the green Lion, I say, which is really the Babylonian Dragon, killing all by means of his venom.” ~Philalethes, Introitus Apertus
On his first trip to Hogwart’s, Harry received a chocolate frog card depicting this alchemist who was particularly well known for his contributions to medicine.
Hint: There was also a bust of him in the halls at Hogwarts.

Paracelsus (1493-1541)
with iron
Thank You!
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