John Dee's Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature

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Overview

John Dee 1527-1608/9 was a Cambridge-educated natural philosopher who served Queen Elizabeth I as court astrologer and who wrote works on many subjects including mathematics, alchemy, and astronomy. His most prolonged intellectual project, however, was conversations with angels using a crystal ball and a variety of assistants with visionary abilities. Dee's angel conversations have long puzzled scholars of early modern science and culture, who have wondered how to incorporate them within the broader contexts of early modern natural philosophy, religion, and society. Using Dee's marginal notes in library books, his manuscript diaries of the angel conversations, and a wide range of medieval and early modern treatises regarding nature and the apocalypse, Deborah Harkness argues that Dee's angel conversations represent a continuing development of his natural philosophy. The angel conversations, which included discussions of the natural world, the practice of natural philosophy, and the apocalypse, were conveyed to audiences from London to Prague, and took on new importance within these shifting philosophical, religious, and political situations. When set within these broader frameworks of Dee's intellectual interests and early modern culture, the angel conversations can be understood as an attempt to practice natural philosophy at a time when many thought that nature itself was coming to an end.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
" John Dee's Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature, marks an important addition to Dee scholarship. For the first time, it places Dee's conversations with angels into a comprehensible framework. Harkness elegantly demonstrates that Dee's angel conversations were at the center of his mission to reform nature and the world in the midst of intellectual and religious tumult when the end of human history was imminently expected. This book brilliantly brings out the place of the angel conversations as exegetical aids in a natural philosophy that was meant to restore a corrupted and decaying Book of Nature. Natural philosophy was to provide a bridge between this world and the next, but only with the help of angels could faulty human perception and intelligence be remedied and the real significance of the things of nature be made clear." Pamela Smith, Pomona College

"John Dee's 'angelic conversations' have long proved resistant to the attentions of intellectual historians. Deborah Harkness's impressive and important new book, by situating this unique intellectual formation in a full range of appropriate historical contexts not only makes them intelligible for the modern reader, but identifies some of the key cultural imperatives which shaped late-Elizabethan intellectual life." Stephen Clucas, Birkbeck College, University of London

"[A] fascinating study." Religious Studies Review

"Harkness' book is a welcome addition to Dee scholarship, one that perpahs will open the way to solving the questions that remain." Albion

"Harkness's monography is a lively read that offers an interesting interpretation of Dee's works and their place within early modern intellectual life. It is a work that clearly deserves a place within the corpus of Dee scholarship." The Historian

"Through careful description and analysis, Harkness takes us into that very strange world of early modern thought-a world of astrology, alchemy, and Christian cabala-which eventually led to the rise of science. This is a scholarly book, full of interesting footnotes and with an extensive bibliography, Such apparatus, however, should not dter the interested but nonacademic reader. This is clearly one of the best books to be published on esoteric spirituality during the Renaissance in recent years. It is clear, insightful, and a pleasure to read." the quest Sept-Oct 2001

"This is a truly remarkable story and merits telling for its own sake. Harkness's version is beautifully written with rich footnoting and a good command of the sources. That she has told it unflinchingly and with sensitivity to its subject only adds to its value." Canadian Journal of History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521027489
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/2/2006
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 268
  • Sales rank: 1,156,787
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Harkness is Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern California. She is the prize-winning author of articles on John Dee's angel conversations and his household.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations and Conventions
Introduction 1
Pt. I Genesis
1 The Colloquium of Angels: Prague, 1586 9
2 Building Jacob's Ladder: The Genesis of the Angel Conversations 60
3 Climbing Jacob's Ladder: Angelology as Natural Philosophy 98
Pt. II Revelations
4 "Then Commeth the Ende": Apocalypse, Natural Philosophy, and the Angel Conversations 133
5 "The True Cabala": Reading the Book of Nature 157
6 Adam's Alchemy: The Medicine of God and the Restitution of Nature 195
Epilogue 215
Select Bibliography 227
Index 247
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