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Michael Maier

From Thelemapedia

Michael Maier (1566-1622) Writer, diplomat, physician, poet, classical scholar, alchemist and Rosicrucian apologist, was born at Rendsburg (Prussia), educated at the University of Rostock, and later received his doctorate of medicine at Basel. He lived for some years in Prague as physician and confidant of the Emperor Rudolf II, an important patron of the arts, who had an especial interest in hermetic philosophy. Maier travelled extensively on diplomatic missions, and made many contacts with influential people sympathetic to his interests in hermetic philosophy. After the death of Rudolf in 1612, Maier spent some years in Britain, where he was friendly with Robert Fludd. In a number of works, he defended the Rosicrucians against their critics. It seems unlikely that he was actively involved in the early development of the Rosicrucian myth during the early years of the seventeenth century, but once it had become public through the publishing of the manifestos in 1614-1615, Maier and Fludd were among the mysterious movement’s staunchest defenders.

Maier's works include the Arcana arcanissima [‘the most secret secret’] of 1614, the Lusus serius [‘the serious past-time’] of 1616, Examen fucorum [‘the detection of the falsifications of pseudo-alchemists’] in 1617, the Jocus severus [‘the earnest jest’] and the Silentium post clamores [‘the silence after the clamour of the announcement of the Rosicrucians’] of 1617, his famous emblem book, the Atalanta fugiens [‘Atalanta fleeing’] of 1617, Themis aurea [‘golden Themis’] 1618, Tripus Aureus [‘the golden tripod’] 1618, Viatorium [‘the wayfarer’s guide’] 1618.

Maier saw his work as deeply religious, explaining the relationship of God to the cosmos. Like all other philosophical alchemists, he had a very high view of his calling and he was at pains in his writings to support the sublime truths of alchemy and hermetic philosophy against its detractors, and against the false alchemists and charlatans who gave the discipline such a bad reputation.

Maier's most celebrated work is Atalanta fugiens, hoc est, emblemata nova de secretis naturae chymica (Oppenheim, 1618), which contains 50 engravings of emblems. They each have a verse and an epigram associated with them, and a short prose discourse which elaborates a classical mythological interpretation of the symbolism in the emblem. The first emblem, for example, shows the North Wind as a bearded man carrying the fundamental principle of the alchemists, symbolised as a gestating child, in his belly.

EMBLEM 1, Of the secrets of nature The wind carried him in his belly EPIGRAM 1 When the unborn child, which lies hidden in the womb of the NORTH WIND, One day will rise to the light alive He alone will be able to surpass all deeds of heroism

  With his art, his hand, bodily strength and spirit, 

Let him not be born for you like a Coeso, and not as a useless abortion, Not as an Agrippa, but under a lucky star.

The Atalanta fugiens attempts to merge music, poetry, visual art, and prose into an unified experience. It takes the form of an emblem book with fifty emblems, but with the added dimension of music. Maier uses the myth of the beautiful young woman Atalanta who, in order to avoid losing her own essence by being married to some unsuitable man, challenges each of her suitors to a race. She is an exceptionally fast runner and easily wins against all her pursuers, until the youth Hippomenes, following the advice of Venus, tricks her by dropping three golden apples which she cannot resist stopping to pick up, thus allowing Hippomenes to win the race.

Maier creates a ‘fugue’ to accompany each emblem, taking the form of a three-part canon, with a leading voice representing Atalanta, a pursuing voice Hippomenes and a simple base figure of three notes reflecting the golden apples. The music also is further elaborated by the fact that for certain emblems the music is a mirrored version, or inversion, (or sometimes places the notes in reverse order) of that found accompanying another emblem. Thus we have a complex musical interrelationship between emblems.

Sources Ideas in Society, 1500 - 1700: Michael Maier.

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