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Stephen Clucas (Birkbeck College): 'Hieroglyph, Anatomy and Cosmos: John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica'

Stargates - The Magic of Images from Heka to the Monas Hieroglyphica is a lecture series dedicated to the material aspects of making magical images. Following a chronological sequence in order to underline the transformations, continuities, and discontinuities from ancient to “modern” practices, this series builds on the legacy of the Warburg Institute scholars D.P. Walker and Frances Yates. 

In this paper I will be looking at John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564) and its debts to early Greek alchemy, and to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s conception of magic. I consider Dee’s ‘hieroglyphic monad’ both as an epistemic and an operative image (or talisman). As a ‘celestial anatomy’ or ‘cosmic likeness’ revealed by God, Dee’s glyph purported to teach an art which was at once new and ancient, which promised the magus the ability to operate not only in the terrestrial or celestial realms, but also in the supercelestial realm. Dee maintained that the ‘cabalistic’ re-arrangement and permutation of the components of his hieroglyph revealed alchemical secrets (a ‘science of the elements’ or ‘pyronomia’), but the ‘restoration’ of its mystical proportions also meant that the glyph was more than just a ‘barbarous sign’ but was ‘imbued with immortal life’ and contained the four primary numbers of the Pythagorean tetraktys in a mysterious way endowing it with the ‘ultimate power of art and nature’.  

Organised by Luisa Capodieci (Frances A. Yates Long Term Fellow, Warburg Institute).