Con or Craft? Defending Chrysopoeia in a Late Seventeenth-Century Medical Journal

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Abstract:

Late in the seventeenth century, a new journal founded by a society of physicians in the Bohemian and German territories, the Miscellanea Curiosa, circulated articles on chrysopoeia, the art of transmuting base metals into gold. In 1670 the secretary of this new society launched the journal's first volume with a trenchant defence of chrysopoeia entitled the 'Aurum Chymicum', which rebutted Athanasius Kircher's critique of the art, and offered, as proof of its legitimacy, a history of successfully executed transmutations as witnessed by imperial, regional, and local authorities. This paper explores the strategies of persuasion employed by physicians who contributed to this early medical journal and finds many surprising similarities with methods used by charlatans, specifically the promise to transfer secret knowledge, the use of testimonials as proof of secret knowledge, and the performance of spectacular acts, some public and some witnessed virtually via the society's medical journal. At a time when chemistry was in its academic infancy, the journal offers a fluctuating view of a social space in transition, a space in which medicine, alchemy, and charlatanry initially are located in close proximity, and eventually become segregated to delimit physicians as adepts and alchemists as cons.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/1478003806cs063oa

Affiliations: Asst. Professor History of Science, Department of Liberal Studies, California State University, Fullerton, PO Box 6868, Fullerton, California 92834, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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