University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, November 13th 2015
Speaker: Donna Bilak, Columbia University
Subject: Steganography and the Art of Secret Writing: New Perspectives on Michael Maier’s Alchemical Emblem Book, Atalanta fugiens (1618)
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 1618, an alchemical savant named Michael Maier published an extraordinary alchemical emblem book, the Atalanta fugiens. Distinguished among the hermetic corpus for its fifty exquisite engravings of enigmatic alchemical images, which are set to music, Maier's Atalanta fugiens is an elegant audio-visual articulation of alchemical theory and practice for producing the philosophers’ stone, the panacea held to restore perfect health and longevity to humankind. The Atalanta fugiens is Maier's allegorical paean to wisdom achieved through the pursuit of true alchemy, and it is his evocation of a Golden Age published on the eve of the Thirty Years' War. However, this book contains a secret that has lain hidden for the past four hundred years, enciphered in its pages. This talk explores Maier's Atalanta fugiens as a virtuoso work of allegorical encryption that fuses poetry, iconography, music, mathematics, and Christian cabala to extol hermetic wisdom, while evoking alchemical technologies and laboratory processes - for Maier’s emblem book functions as a game or puzzle that the erudite reader must solve, decode, play.

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