About the project
Stephen Clucas is commissioned to write a short book (40,000 words) entitled John Dee and Renaissance Magic in the Reaktion Books series, 'Renaissance Lives' and shall wite a first draft during his Vossius Fellowship. The project will focus on the disciplinary complexities involved in studying the 'occult philosophy' or 'occult sciences' of the Renaissance period. The book aims to set out the complex intellectual contexts of Dee's 'magic', which ranges from a thoroughgoing engagement with the medieval perspectiva tradition (Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon) and theories of stellar radiation (AI-Kindi, Ficino) in the Propaedeumata aphoristica (1558) to the 'angelic conversations' (crystallomantic ritual magic influenced by medieval magical arts) in the 1580s. The fellowship research (like the book) will have a fourfold structure:
I) Themes in Renaissance Magic.
A survey of the various theories of magic which Dee engaged with during the course of his career involving both natural and ritual magic, neoplatonism and the Christian cabala.
2) Rays from the stars: Propaedeumata aphoristica (1558/1568) and astral virtues.
A close look at his theories of astral magic as outlined the Propaedeumata aphoristica, and how it relates to the stellar radiation theories of Al-Kindi and Ficino and perspectiva seen as a discipline which presents a universal theory of causation. Dee's work on burning mirrors (De speculis comburentibus) is of key importance here, as are his annotations to the 1558 Augsburg edition of Petrus Peregrinus's De magnete which shows that Dee engaged with talismanic theory at the same time as he was reading the mathematical work of Francesco Maurolico.
3) Celestial anatomy: Monas Hieroglyphica (1564) alchemy and natural magic.
The third chapter examines Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica (1564) a work which presents both a theory of alchemy and a theory ofTrithemian natural magic. In this part of my work I will address what I have recently called Dee's 'diagrammatic' alchemy (2017), and Dee's close engagement with both Christian cabala and medieval alchemy (George Ripley, Thomas Norton, Arnold da Villanova), and will investigates Dee's claim that the Monas presented a 'new discipline' (noua disciplina) which would amaze the arithmetician, the geometer, the musician, the astronomer and the optical practitioner.
4) The angelic conversations: magic or prophecy?
The fourth chapter deals with Dee's 'angelic conversations'. Between 1583 and 1587, Dee and his assistant, the 'skryer' (crystallomantic magician) Edward Kelley recorded 'conversations' mainly with archangels such as Michael, Raphael and Uriel- in the so-called 'Books of Mysteries' (Libri Mysteriorum). This section of the research will look at Dee's debts to medieval ritual magic, but also how he found confirmation of these kinds of practices in Renaissance Platonic texts such as Ficino's translations of Plato and Plotinus, and works of Christian Cabala and Occult Philosophy by Henricus Cornelius Agrippa and Johannes Reuchlin.
John Dee's magical thought was inherently cross-disciplinary, and Dee's intellectual; career has a great deal to tell us about the disciplinary upheavals of the sixteenth century, and how science (natural philosophy), mathematics and religious beliefs interacted in the so-called 'occult philosophy' of the period.
About the researcher
Dr Stephen Clucas is Reader in Early-Modern Intellectual History at Birkbeck, University of London. Stephen Clucas has devoted a considerable amount of his career to research into John Dee, including the edited collection John Dee: Jnterdsciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought (2006), two special issues of Ambix on Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica (2005 and 2017), and several book chapters and articles in journals such as Studies in History and Philosophy of Science and Aries.