Publisher Information: Hanau: Gulielmus Antonius, 1609.
Khunrath, Heinrich (ca. 1560?-1605). Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae, solius verae, christiano-chymicum. . . . Folio. 66, 222 pp. 9 (of 12) engraved plates, including the engraved title dated 1602; lacking the portrait and 2 of the double-page plates but with the owl plate, which is often found wanting. 2 folding tables. [Hanau: Gulielmus Antonius, 1609.] 300 x 191 mm. Blind-stamped pigskin ca. 1609, small split in front hinge, corners worn, original leather ties not present. Browned throughout as in all copies, portions torn from upper and lower margins of engraved title, lower portion of front free endpaper cut away, minor worming, edges a bit frayed. Good copy. Old library/ownership stamps on title, 20th century ownership stamp on front pastedown.
First Obtainable Edition of one of the great illustrated works on alchemy. This copy, although incomplete, does contain the often-lacking plate of the owl with caption “Was helffen Fackeln / Liecht oder Brillen / Wann die Leut nicht sehen wollen” (What use are torches, lights or spectacles to those who will not see?).
A follower of Paracelsus, Khunrath pursued the mystical and philosophical rather than the practical aspects of alchemy. Read (p. 82) characterizes Khunrath’s writings as “consist[ing] largely of a fevered sequence of mystical pronouncements and adjurations, interlarded with bizarre exclamations in various tongues,” and Eco describes the Amphitheatrum as “a discourse mystical to the highest degree, accompanied by invocation, exhortations, exorcistic interjections, often expressed and arranged in an extremely elaborate typographical composition . . .” (p. 13). Yet despite his intensely mystical outlook, Khunrath also believed that received wisdom could be contradicted only by experience, and tried to create a physicochemica grounded at least partly in natural observation.
Numerous early editions of the Amphitheatrum have been cited by various bibliographers (Ferguson lists eight between 1595 and 1609 alone), but only two have been authenticated beyond doubt: the first edition of 1595, and the present 1609 edition. The complex publication history of this work is fully described in Umberto Eco’s L’Enigme de la Hanau 1609. The exceedingly rare first edition, of which only two copies are known, was probably published in Hamburg. Burland, The Arts of the Alchemists, p. 93. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Eco, L’Enigme de la Hanau 1609 (1990). Ferguson I, p. 463. Mellon 62. Read, The Alchemist in Life, Literature and Art, pp. 69-71; Prelude to Chemistry, pp. 81-83.Book Id: 46046