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Newton the Alchemist$
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William Newman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780691174877

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691174877.001.0001

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Religion, Ancient Wisdom, and Newton’s Alchemy

Religion, Ancient Wisdom, and Newton’s Alchemy

(p.45) Three Religion, Ancient Wisdom, and Newton’s Alchemy
Newton the Alchemist

William R. Newman

Princeton University Press

This chapter analyzes several related themes, considering, for example, the relationship between Newton's exegesis of biblical prophecy and his method of interpreting the textual riddles presented by writers on the philosophers' stone. It also examines Newton's views on ancient wisdom and mythology in their relation to the aurific art, since many alchemists believed that the entertaining tales of the Greek and Roman pantheon contained veiled instructions for preparing the great arcanum. Previous scholarship has tended to assume that Newton too upheld the belief that ancient mythology was largely encoded alchemy. However, this would have presented a sharp conflict with his views on ancient chronology and religious history. Further evidence shows that Newton may well have considered the mythological themes transmitted and analyzed by early modern alchemists as conventional puzzles reworked from antique sources rather than as true expressions of ancient wisdom.

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, exegesis, biblical prophecy, philosophers' stone, alchemy, aurific art, ancient mythology

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