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ARIES . () – www.brill.nl/arie

Early Modern Improvisations on
Cabala, Music, and Alchemy

Peter J. Forshaw
University of Amsterdam

La gravure du Lab-Oratorium, dans l’Amphithéâtre de la Sagesse Eternelle ( / ), du
paracelsien Heinrich Khunrath de Leipzig (–)—‘docteur des deux médecines et
fidèle amoureux de la théosophie’—est une image bien connue des historiens de l’ésotérisme
du début des Temps Modernes, mais peu de choses ont été dites sur la signification des
instruments musicaux qui sont au premier plan de l’image. Cet article examine les diverses
références qui, dans les écrits de Khunrath, concernent la musique et le thème y relatif de
l’harmonie dans le contexte des activités kabbalistiques et alchimiques de Khunrath en son
Oratoire et son Laboratoire. Il examine l’influence d’idées pythagoriciennes sur les pratiques
théurgiques de Khunrath, identifie la source christiano-kabbalistique de l’hymne polyglotte
qu’il relie à l’une des images théosophiques sur la table de son Oratoire, et propose une
réflexion sur l’usage de la musique dans cette dimension kabbalistique de son œuvre. Etant
donné que Khunrath est connu surtout comme praticien de l’alchimie, la seconde section de
l’article traite de quelques exemples de chant et de musique, à commencer par un manuscrit
qui a survécu dans le travail de Khunrath, et se termine par un bref examen de la plus célèbre
combinaison d’alchimie et de musique; à savoir, l’Atlanta Fugiens (), de son admirateur
le Comte Michael Maier (–).

Music; Harmony; Alchemy; Cabala; Heinrich Khunrath; Michael Maier; Oratory; Labora-

In his Raphael oder Artzt-Engel (), Abraham von Franckenberg (–

), disciple and early biographer of Jakob Boehme, has a section on ‘Kabal-
istic or Spiritual Medicine,’ which includes a table of correspondences between

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Kabala, Magia and Chymia. At the bottom of the table we discover that the loci
for these practices are, respectively, Oratorium, Auditorium, and Laboratorium.1

kabala magic alchemy

Spirit Soul Body
Divine Natural Artificial
Belief Reason Sense
God Human Creature
Theology Mathematics Physics
Intellect Reason Sense
Divine Angelic Human
Spirit Word Flesh
1000 100 10
Alpha X Omega
Ora- Audi- Labora-

This association of esoteric sciences and spaces is undoubtedly inspired by

the Paracelsian doctor Heinrich Khunrath of Leipzig (–), whose
De Igne magorum () insists on the vital necessity of working alchemy,
magic and cabala in conjunction.2 These three arts combine in Khunrath’s
Christian-Cabalist, Divinely-Magical, and Physico-Chemical magnum opus the
Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae ( / ), finding their most profound
expression in his image of the Lab-Oratorium, probably one of the best-known
images of early modern esotericism.3
In this ‘Theosophical figure’4 Khunrath presents the domains of the
Christian-Cabalist at prayer before the Oratory tabernacle on the left and of
the alchemist in the Laboratory on the right. In his words, we hear the universal
voice of Wisdom

with the ears of the senses, of reason, of the Intellect and of the Mind: Praying in
the Oratory, Working Micro and Macro-Cosmically, Physically, Physico-Medically,
Physico-Chemically, etc. in the Laboratory.5

Franckenberg, Raphael oder Artzt-Engel, .
Khunrath, De Igne magorum, .
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, . On the sequence of engravings in Khunrath’s book,
see Eco, Lo Strano Caso della Hanau .
Khunrath, Totique, celestis exercitus spiritualis, … Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae,
solius verae, , Title-page: ‘exornatum figuris quatuor Theosophicis.’
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, –.

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Heinrich Khunrath’s Lab-Oratorium, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae

() (Courtesy of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam)

In another of his works, Vom hylealischen Chaos (), Khunrath makes

it explicitly clear that these domains are intimately connected and castigates
those who ‘utterly un-Philosophically separate Oratory and Laboratory from
each other.’6 Only one experienced in both will comprehend the “analogical
harmony” (Harmonia analogica) between Christ, Son of the Microcosm, and
the Philosophers’ Stone, Son of the Macrocosm.7 Movement between these
two disciplinary domains itself performs a probatory function, for the works

Khunrath, Vom hylealischen Chaos, .
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, ; Khunrath, Magnesia Catholica Philosophorum,

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of the alchemist and cabalist are mutually confirming. Although Khunrath is

well aware he risks being accused of blasphemy, he firmly asserts that ‘if the
one exists, so does the other’, Christ can be known naturally through the Stone
and the Stone theosophically through Christ.8 So inspired is he by this revela-
tion that he exuberantly exclaims, ‘Oh, wondrous Regenerative harmony of the
Macro and Microcosm’.9 Given the apparent significance of the Lab-Oratorium
image, it is particularly frustrating to discover that Khunrath is far less forth-
coming about the specific details of his engraving and its harmonious message,
in particular the objects that occupy centre stage, indeed dominate the very
foreground of the engraving, the musical instruments in what Franckenberg
so fittingly names the Auditorium.
In Franckenberg’s table of correspondences, the Auditorium mediates be-
tween Oratory and Laboratory, and Mathematics stands between Theology and
Physics. Anyone familiar with the medieval university curriculum will know
that in addition to the verbal arts of the Trivium, students also studied the
numerical subjects of the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and
music), in preparation for the more advanced study of philosophy or theology.
Khunrath’s central table presumably represents the third of his Amphitheatre’s
activities, magic and, given his penchant for describing this endeavour as
both ‘physical’ and ‘hyperphysical’, the engraving allows for the interpretation
that the reader meditating on this image enters Khunrath’s world by way of
the instruments on the table, thereafter turning to the realms of physics or
metaphysics as the spirit moves him. The notion of music mediating between
the verbal activity of the Oratory and manual activity of the Laboratory finds
support from the famous third-century musical theorist Aristides Quintilianus’
claim that ‘Only music teaches both by word and by the counterparts of
actions’.10 This reading is partly encouraged, too, by one of the most famous
Renaissance magi, Marsilio Ficino (–), who justified his personal
combination of medicine, music and theology with the argument that music
is as important for the intermediary spirit as medicine is for the body and
theology for the soul.11 True, Franckenberg prefers soul as the intermediary
principle, but the table-cloth beneath Khunrath’s instruments bears the more
“pneumatic” message: ‘Sacred Music is the dispeller of sadness and evil spirits,

Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II,  (mispaginated as ), .
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, .
Mathiesen, ‘Harmonia and Ethos’, .
Kristeller, ‘Music and Learning’, ; Ehrmann, ‘Marsilio Ficino und sein Einfluß’,
, .

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because the spirit of jehovah gladly sings in a heart filled with pious joy’
(musica sancta tristitiae spirituumque malignorum fuga quia spiritvs yhvh
lubenter psallit in cordi gaudio pio perfuso).
Looking at the four musical instruments on the table, at the most basic level
of interpretation they could be taken as symbolising the harmonies vibrating
between Heaven and Earth, a reminder of the Hermetic dictum appearing
on the Amphitheatre’s  title page, from the Emerald Tablet, ‘that which
is below is like that which is above; And that which is above is like that
which is below’.12 More than likely, there is also an intended reference to
the sympathies existing between the Microcosm and Macrocosm, a notion
that crops up repeatedly in Khunrath’s works, frequently in company with the
medieval topos of God’s Two Books of Scripture and Nature. As shall be seen,
there is also a tacit acknowledgement of the universal and musical harmony
made famous by Pythagoras and Plato in antiquity, for whom harmonia is
above all a cosmic principle of order, the ‘unification of things that appear
on a lower level to be dissimilar or unrelated or lacking in order’ into a lasting
relationship.13 This notion was perpetuated in the Renaissance by hermetic and
cabalistic works like Francesco Giorgi’s De harmonia mundi () and John
Dee’s Propaedeumata aphoristica ().14 The presence of four instruments
could also be alluding to the concord of the four elements and their qualities
in nature or the balance of the four humours of the human body.15
In his Life of Pythagoras, the third-century Neoplatonist Iamblichus writes of
how the master alone could hear the harmony and consonance of the spheres
and the stars moving through them.16 This Pythagorean resonance is present
in the most influential source for Khunrath’s Cabala, the German humanist
Johannes Reuchlin (–), author of two of Christian Cabala’s most
influential works, De verbo mirifico () and De arte cabalistica (), in
which he sets forth the fundamental harmony between this mystical form of
Judaism and the philosophy or ‘symbolic theology’ of Pythagoras.17 Certainly,
a Pythagorean presence is immediately evident in the plaque suspended over

On the sympathetic harmony between internal, external and Olympic fire, see, for
instance, Amphitheatrum, , II, .
Mathiesen, ‘Harmonia and Ethos’, .
Schmidt-Biggemann, Philosophia Perennis, –. Szönyi, John Dee’s Occultism, ;
Cavallaro, ‘The Alchemical Significance of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica’.
Finney, ‘Music’, .
Godwin, Music, Mysticism and Magic, .
Reuchlin, De Arte Cabalistica, , .

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 Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () –

the Amphitheatre’s Oratory table, where we read the injunction ‘Do not speak
of God without light’ (Ne loquaris de deo absque lvmine). Khunrath’s most
likely direct source for this statement is one of his favoured authors, Heinrich
Cornelius Agrippa (–), who explains that

the first, and most wise institutors of religions, and ceremonies ordained, that prayers,
singings, and all manner of divine worships whatsoever should not be performed with-
out lighted candles, or torches. (Hence also was that significant saying of Pythagoras:
do not speak of God without a light).18

Khunrath and Agrippa could well have lifted this saying from Marsilio Ficino’s
De Sole () or his translation of Iamblichus’s De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum,
Chaldaeorum, Assyriorum (), where it is included among the ‘Symbols of
Pythagoras the Philosopher.’19
Returning to the instruments on the table, we see that on the left lie a lyra
da braccio and harp and on the right a lute and what appears to be a cittern.20 It
may be coincidental, but the latter two instruments, those closest to the earthly
laboratory are fretted, perhaps intimating of the clearly defined quantitative
divisions of weight and measure necessary for the alchemical study of nature.
This notion is encouraged by the presence of the balance scales and weights
behind these two instruments and, in combination with the open book with
staves of music behind the harp and lyre on the left, they should probably be
understood as an allusion to a scriptural verse popular among both alchemists
and cabalists, from Wisdom : ‘Thou hast ordered all things in measure,
and number, and weight.’21 Michael Maier (–), like Khunrath no
stranger to the Bohemian court of Rudolf II, was to allude to the same source
in his alchemical Cantilenae intellectuales (), declaring that ‘by a certain
number, weight and measure all celestial and terrestrial bodies rejoice in as it
were a real blending of musical harmony, as do spiritual creatures … led by its
melodies and symphonic intervals’.22

Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, .
See Ficino’s translation of Iamblichus de mysteriis, sig. r and Ficino, De Sole, sig. [Lv].
Versions of the phrase also appear in Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life,  ‘Do
not speak without light’,  ‘Do not talk about Pythagorean matters without light.’ See
too Fideler (ed), The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, , .
Cf Rebotier, ‘La Musique de Flamel’,  luth, un dessus de viole, cistre, harpe; Meinel,
‘Alchemie und Musik’,  zwei Lauten, Harfe und Viola.
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, .
Maier, Cantilenae intellectuales, , . For more on Maier, see Tilton, The Quest for the
Phoenix; De Jong, Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens; Godwin, Atalanta fugiens.

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As the declaration on the Lab-Oratorium table-cloth makes clear, Khunrath’s

focus is on the powers of ‘Sacred Music’ and his claim resonates well with
Agrippa’s statement in a chapter ‘Of the Composition and Harmony of the
humane soul’, from De occulta philosophia (), that ‘there is nothing more
efficacious to drive away evil spirits than Musicall Harmony (for they being
fallen from that Celestiall Harmony, cannot endure any true consent, as being
an enemy to them, but fly from it)’.23 Certainly the two instruments on the
Oratory side of the table have strong associations with religious and divine fig-
ures known for their musical abilities to sway souls: Orpheus could charm even
stones when he played his lyre and David’s harp-playing allayed Saul’s wrath
when he was troubled with an evil spirit.24 In a chapter ‘Of Musicall Harmony,
of the force and powere thereof ’, Agrippa indeed provides a long list of prisci
theologi and philosophi who enjoy a reputation for musical cures, including
Arion, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Empedocles, and Asclepiades who ‘were wont to
do many wonderful things by sounds.’25 Mention of the prisci theologi brings us
back to Ficino who is well-known for his association of the Lyre with Orpheus
as well as for his own practice of singing Orphic hymns, while accompanying
himself on the lyre.26 In De musica, Aristides Quintilianus explains how ‘all
the parts of music—pitch, scale, tonos, rhythmic pattern, and so on—are like
the order of the universe, and therefore through mimesis, music may make the
order of the soul like the order of the universe.’27 For the astrologer-musician
Ficino, this assumption was assuredly behind the composition of De vita libri
tres () the best known Renaissance promotion of the power of music to
dispel Saturnine melancholy.28 Knowledge of this was presumably at a pre-
mium in the court of the melancholy emperor Rudolf, where more than a few
early modern magi, including Khunrath, paid their dues.29
Khunrath’s sacred music, however, seems to be somewhat less exotic than
that of Ficino. In his Lab-Oratorium, he can be seen kneeling before a table
bearing a psalter, open at Psalm : promising that ‘Jehovah does the

Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia, ; Three Books of Occult Philosophy, .
Walker, ‘Orpheus the Theologian’, . Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta philosophia, ,
. See too Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, .
Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta philosophia, ; Three Books, .
Voss, ‘Orpheus redivivus’, ; eadem, ‘Marsilio Ficino, the Second Orpheus’.
Mathiesen, ‘Harmonia and Ethos’, .
Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic; refs to Aristides and Gafori, also Chapter Four:
Ficino’s Magical Songs, –; Allen, ‘Ficino, Daemonic Mathematics, and the Spirit’;
Ammann, ‘Music and Melancholy’.
For Khunrath on melancholy, see Quaestiones Tres.

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 Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () –

Will of them that fear him’. Elsewhere in the Amphitheatre he cites Paul’s
advice to the Ephesians (:) ‘be ye filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking
to yourselves in psalms and hymns and Spiritual canticles, in your hearts to
the lord.’30 He leaves us in no doubt of his faith in the powers of sacred
music: Jehoshaphat, he recalls, routed the army of the sons of Ammon and
Moab with a single hymn, and David allayed the madness of Saul; ‘those who
understand the occult Nature of things,’ he states, ‘are capable of furnishing
many similar instances, which the multitude takes to be miracles.’31 It is
possible that Khunrath’s reference to the power of sacred music to dispel evil
spirits is connected with exorcism, for the Pythagorean injunction not to speak
of God without light is apparently also connected with exorcistic practices;
we find the same utterance in the pseudo-Agrippan Fourth Book of Occult
Philosophy in a passage discussing ‘How the devils are to be driven away’.32
Another possible application for the four musical instruments is natural magic.
As a Christian Cabalist, Khunrath is, of course, familiar with Giovanni Pico
della Mirandola’s Conclusiones Nongentae, in omnigenere scientiarum (),
including those concerning the Orphic hymns,33 where we find the intriguing,
but slightly puzzling statement that ‘Nothing is more effective in natural magic
than the hymns of Orpheus …’.
Next to the psalter in Khunrath’s Oratory stand two images, which are in fact
two of the Amphitheatre’s circular engravings. The first of these presents a series
of concentric rings of Hebrew text including the Decalogue, the Hebrew alpha-
bet, the names of the angelic orders, the Cabalist Sephiroth and their related
Shemoth or Divine Names, together with the Hebrew Tetragrammaton com-
bined with the Pythagorean Tetraktys. At their centre stands Christ resurrected,
surrounded by a fiery pentagram, the five largest tongues of flame each bearing
a Hebrew letter of the the Christian-Cabalist name par excellence, yhsvh, as
proclaimed by Reuchlin in his De verbo mirifico. Khunrath’s Isagoge to this cir-
cular figure includes a rather theurgic musical dimension in the advice, albeit
unacknowledged, from the same source, to ‘Make your vows and prayers to the

Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, .
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, , .
Agrippa, Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, .
Farmer, Syncretism in the West, –. For Khunrath’s references to Pico’s conclusions,
see Amphitheatrum, , II, ; Vom hylealischen Chaos, ; De Igne Magorum, . Indeed,
Khunrath also quotes from Orpheus’s De Lapidibus—On Stones, a text which must have
held an obvious attraction for an alchemist seeking the Philosophers’ Stone.

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Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () – 

First, Your hymns to the Lesser Powers.’ This is evidently of some importance,
for it also appears in another of the Amphitheatre’s engravings in a set of seven
‘Oracular Laws’ all taken from Reuchlin.34 It is surely with the first circular
figure in mind that Khunrath advises his readers,

Learn, therefore, to invoke the name of god, with Seth, Abram, Moses, David, [and]
the Disciples … [quoting the psalms]: I will sing to the name of the lord, the Most
High, psalm  … I will be glad and rejoice in you, I will sing to your name, Oh Most
High, Psalm :.35

Reuchlin’s influence persists in the second circular figure on the Oratory table.
At its centre is the Cabalist image of Adam Kadmon or Adam Androgyne, the
universal man, surrounded by an alchemical exhortation to spiritual regenera-
tion plus two ‘scales’: ten Grades of Cognition, as found in both Aristotle’s De
Anima and Reuchlin’s De arte cabalistica, and a ten-step Ladder of Conjunction
and Union.36 Khunrath also provides a curious polyglot hymn incorporating
divine Hebrew names, references to the Greek underworld, and Greek terms
which serve equally well for Olympic Jove or heavenly Christ:

Generator and craftsman of everything,

King of those above, Light of genius, hope of men,
Trembling of the shadowy shade of Phlegethon,
Incredible love of heavenly beings,
Invincible terror of the denizens of Tartarus,
Celebrated religion of the children of the earth,
Lord, Our Lord, Our God,
King, Almighty, Born before all,
One god, Very god, Bountiful god,
Descending from on high, flow into us,
you, you, you
Remain here
Quicken the inert
Warn us what are false
Teach us what may be true.37

Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, . Although not noted by Khunrath, this advice,
together with six other injunctions in the Isagoge to the first two circular figures again reveal
Reuchlin’s influence, all being taken verbatim from De verbo mirifico, .
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, .
Aristotle, On the Soul, –. Reuchlin, De arte, .
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, ; Reuchlin, De verbo mirifico, .

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This hymn is another unacknowledged borrowing from Reuchlin’s De verbo

mirifico, where it appears in the context of what Charles Zika describes as ‘a
kind of purgative rite’, aimed at ‘predisposing the individual to accept powers
from the divinity’, in ‘preparation for the revelation of the wonder-working
In his Isagoge to this figure, Khunrath gives us a clear idea of the results he
expects from the performance of this rite, introducing it immediately after the
promise that ‘We shall experience without deception the good angels amicably
helping us, faithfully advising us, familiarly teaching us by the benevolent
command of Jehovah, and guiding us safely on our ways.’ He follows Reuchlin
in advising that the hymn be sung in the ‘Ionic mode’ (ionico modulamine)
and with an accentuation suitable for stirring the mind to sacred things.39 The
theory that music based on the Greek Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian scales,
and so forth could induce various emotions in the soul dated from antiquity.
Anyone seeking advice on music in relation to ‘divine magic’ or theurgic ritual
could read Iamblichus’s account of how Pythagoras directed the ‘passions of
the soul’ by ‘divinely contriving mixtures of certain diatonic, chromatic, and
enharmonic melodies’.40 Plato had spoken of the musical modes in the Republic
and Aristotle in the Politics.41 With the Renaissance rediscovery of classical
antiquity in the fifteenth century Gemistus Pletho (–) practised a
form of music-magic that placed great importance on musical modes, special
body postures and times of performance.42 True, Plato had dismissed the
Ionian mode as ‘soft and convivial’, as ‘lax’, and as unbefitting the guardians
of the Republic,43 and Aristophanes claimed that prostitutes made use of it
for saucy songs;44 but other sources Khunrath knew, like Athenaeus in his
Deipnosophists, praised the Ionic mode as ‘neither bright nor cheerful but

Zika, ‘Reuchlin’s De Verbo Mirifico’, . In the updated version of this article in Zika,
Exorcising our Demons,  n.  Zika suggests that Reuchlin intends Ionic ‘metre’ rather
than Ionic ‘mode’. For a German translation of this hymn, see Rhein, ‘Johannes Reuchlin’,
Khunrath, Amphitheatrum, , II, .
Godwin, Music, Mysticism and Magic, . Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life,
Plato, Republic,  ff. Aristotle, Politics, Book VIII, v. ,  f.
Walker, Spiritual & Demonic Magic, .
Plato, Republic, . See Mountford, ‘The Musical Scales of Plato’s Republic’.
Litchfield West, Ancient Greek Music, .

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austere and hard, having a seriousness which is not ignoble; and … well
adapted to tragedy’.45
By the sixteenth century attitudes had changed and we find the Swiss
humanist and musical theorist, Heinrich Glarean (–), who himself
owned a copy of Reuchlin’s De verbo mirifico,46 referring to this scale in his
Dodekachordon (), in which he propounds his theory of twelve church
modes.47 In contrast to the negative opinions of Plato and Aristotle, Glarean
explains that Lucian writes of ‘Ionicae iucunditatem’, the ‘delightfulness of
the Ionic mode’,48 and declares that for the last four hundred years it had
been deeply admired by church singers, enticed by its ‘sweetness and allur-
ing charm.’49 Agrippa touches on music in De occulta philosophia and in a
discussion of the voices of the planets attributes the quality of being ‘delight-
ful’ (iucundos) to Mercury, information which would presumably appeal to a
Hermetic philosopher.50 Neither Reuchlin nor Khunrath give any indication
of whether the Ionic mode, today’s ‘major’ scale, was meant to elevate their
minds through solemnity or joy, both of which would be fitting, in their ways,
for Khunrath’s self-confessed ‘enthusiasm’.51
Khunrath’s ‘Musica sancta’ should not, however, be exclusively related to
Neopythagorean Christian Cabala in the Oratory, for connections can also
be made with the Laboratory. Any hermetic philosopher worth his salt would,
after all, have been familiar with the story of Hermes inventing the first Lyre out
of a tortoise shell, so we should not be too surprised to find some connections
between music and the hermetic art.52 Such a reference occurs, for example, in
Jean Brouaut’s Traité de l’Eau de Vie ou anatomie théorique et pratique du Vin

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, . The same sentiments are also attributed to Heraclides
Ponticus. See West, Ancient Greek Music, .
Fenlon, ‘Heinrich Glarean’s Books’, .
Glareanus, [Dodekachordon], , ,  f. For more on Glarean’s modes, see Atcherson,
‘Key and Mode in Seventeenth-Century Music Theory Books’.
Glareanus, [Dodekachordon], . Lucian, ‘Harmonides’, .
Fuller, ‘Defending the “Dodecachordon” ’, .
Fellerer, ‘Agrippa von Nettesheim und die Musik’, . See Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta
Philosophia, .
For references to Aristoxenus’s consideration of catharsis of the soul effected by music
in his biography of Pythagoras and Theophrastus on music’s three sources as sorrow, joy
and religious ecstasy in On Divine Infilling (Peri enthousiasmou), see Anderson, ‘Musical
Developments in the School of Aristotle’, . See also Finney, ‘Ecstasy and Music in
Seventeenth-Century England’.
Maier, Arcana Arcanissima, –; Fabre, Pan-Chymici Opus, . See also Borthwick, ‘The
Riddle of the Tortoise and the Lyre’, –.

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 Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () –

Basil Valentine, Révelation des mystères des teintures essentielles des sept métaux (). Title
page engraving. (Courtesy of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam)

(),53 a work printed by the seventeenth-century publisher of alchemical

and musical works, Jacques de Senlecque, who is a useful example of a reader
that interprets Khunrath’s ‘Musica Sancta’ in an alchemical light. Senlecque
uses an interesting engraving on the title pages of both Brouault’s Traité de l’Eau
de Vie and an edition of Basil Valentine’s Révelation des mystères des teintures
essentielles des sept métaux ( / ).
There we find the “Occidental Philosopher” Basil Valentine and the “Orien-
tal Philosopher” Hermes Trismegistus busy in the laboratory. If we look closely
we discover a phrase obviously inspired by Khunrath: ‘Harmonia sancta, spir-
ituum malignorum fuga seu [Saturni] intemperiei Medicina est’ (Sacred har-
mony is the dispeller of evil spirits or medicine [against] the extremely intem-

Brouaut, Traité de l’Eau de Vie, .

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perate behaviour of Saturn). We need have no doubt that Senlecque did have
Khunrath in mind, for in a lengthy address ‘L’Imprimeur au Lecteur’ in the
Révelation des mystères, he recommends the ‘singular’ works of Henry Khun-
rath to his readers.54 Senlecque’s engraving deserves more attention than space
permits, but it is worth singling out the phrase ‘Psallite Domino in Chordis
et Organo’ (Play to the Lord on Chords and Organ)55 and the seven organ
pipes associated with the symbols for the seven planets and their related met-
als. Giving some support to the possible symbolism of the numbers of strings in
Khunrath’s engraving is the fact that Senlecque explicitly associates his planet-
metal septenary with the strings of the Viol, ‘called Lyre in antiquity’.56 His
variation on the Lab-Oratorium’s ‘Musica Sancta’ message nicely transforms
Khunrath’s ‘sadness’ into a more Ficinian Saturnine melancholy, and intro-
duces the notion of a chemical medicine for both human beings and metals.
In his Arcana arcanissima (), Michael Maier provides an alchemical read-
ing of the mythical birth of Harmonia, daughter of Venus (Copper) and Mars
(Iron), conceived when they were trapped in the steel net fashioned by Vulcan
(Fire), with the explanation that she represents the alchemists’ ‘harmonically
composed’ Golden Philosophical Medicine.57
Although no music is provided in Khunrath’s printed works or appears to
have survived in manuscript, we do have Ein Philosophisch Lied, Von Saltz-Leib
Werdung deß Geists des Herrn: So Gen: .. auff dem Wasser schwebete. This short
text also exists in an anonymous seventeenth-century English translation as A
Philosophicall short songe of the incorporating of the Spirit of the Lord in Salt
and stands as an example of Khunrath’s curious blending of alchemical theory
and Christian faith, an instance when Oratorium and Laboratorium conjoin
in the Auditorium.58 There is no doubting the devotional nature of this song,
with each of the seven stanzas ending with the liturgical refrain from the Mass,

Valentine, Révelation des mystères, sig. Bv.
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, II. , cited in Finney, ‘A World of Instruments’,
Brouaut, Traité de l’Eau de Vie, , . On Senlecque, see Secret, ‘Littérature et alchimie
au XVIIe siècle’.
Maier, Arcana Arcanissima, –. See Pernety, Dictionnaire Mytho-Hermetique, .
See also Rebotier, ‘Le mythe d’Harmonie’.
Khunrath, A Naturall Chymicall Symbolum. A hand-written copy of this can also be
found in the end-papers of the British Library edition of Khunrath’s Von hylealischen
… Chaos (Magdeburg, ), entitled Ein Philosophisch Lied. Schmieder, Geschichte der
Alchemie,  records another text attributed to Khunrath on ‘The Art of Preparing the
Philosophers’ Stone according to the High Song of Solomon.’

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Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy upon us). As an illustration, here is the first

Spirit Divine, blest be thy state,

That art in Salt incorporate
And in the Worlds true virgin wombe
A pure Quintessence art becomme.
Lord have mercy upon us.

In a marginal note, the “Spirit Divine” is equated with the Ruach Elohim,
the Spirit of the Lord that brooded over the waters in the Mosaic account of
Creation. Khunrath provides an alchemical reading of Genesis with the Spirit
of the Lord as the Paracelsian Light of Nature, implying that both Christ and
the Philosophers’ Stone were conceived in virginal wombs.59
Alchemical songs are fairly rare. The earliest known is the Antiphona, ‘En
pulcher lapis noster’ of the fifteenth-century Bohemian Priest, Johann Tecenen-
sis (Jan Těšínský), of which several manuscripts survive. Yale University is
fortunate enough to possess a copy dating from around  that includes
a musical arrangement like a Gregorian chant in the Phrygian mode.60 The
union of liturgical musical form and alchemical text can also be found in the
early sixteenth-century alchemical mass, Processus sub forma missae (c. )
of Nicolaus Melchior Cibinensis, from Hermannstadt in Siebenbürgen. Like
Khunrath’s Philosophicall Short Song it contains the Kyrie Eleison (sung to the
tune of Gaudeamus), though Melchior differs from Khunrath: rather than
speaking of an “analogous harmony,” he makes a direct identification of Christ
with the Philosophers’ Stone: ‘Christe, Hagie, lapis benedicte artis’ (Christ,
Holy One, blessed stone of the art).61 This evidently made an impression on
Michael Maier, for he includes Melchior as the alchemical representative of the
Hungarian nation in his Symbola aureae mensae duodecim nationum ().62
In the same work, incidentally, Maier mentions the Venetian priest Giovanni
Agostino Pantheo, whose Ars et Theoria Transmvtationis Metallicae, first pub-
lished in , is the first work we know that attempts to combine alchemy

For a comparable alchemical reference to Genesis, see Valentine, Von dem grossen Stein
der uhralten Weisen, .
Meinel, ‘Alchemie und Musik’, ; Beinecke Library, Yale, Mellon MS .
See Zetzner (ed.), Theatrum chemicum, Vol. III, –. See also Kiss, et al, ‘The
Alchemical Mass of Nicolaus Melchior Cibinensis’,  and Benedek Lang, Unlocked Books,
Maier, Symbola aureae mensae, –.

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and cabala.63 Pantheo was to be a source of inspiration for Khunrath, Dee, and
other Paracelsian-minded alchemists, and this work also includes a reference to
Harmony and the Pythagorean musical intervals.64 An example of a less reli-
gious, more popular kind of alchemical song, which nevertheless concludes
with the importance of the ‘Magisterium of Salt’, is provided by Benedict
Figulus (editor of Khunrath’s On the Fire of the Mages and Philosophers), who
includes a Gesang von der Materia Prima—Song on Primal Matter () in his
Thesaurinella Olympica aurea tripartita ().65
Alchemical songs may be rare, but references to music and harmony in
alchemical texts can be found as far back as the works of Zosimus of Panopolis
at the end of the third century and Stephanos of Alexandria in the seventh.66 In
his Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, Marcellin Berthelot includes a short
treatise by an anonymous philosopher, in which analogies are drawn between
alchemical and musical composition, with emphasis on the importance of
systematic processes and the necessity of guarding against haphazard action.
Just as in music one should observe the correct rules of harmonic progression,
the cycles of fourths and fifths, so in alchemy one should respect the correct
sequence of colour changes, i.e., moving from nigredo to albedo and so forth.67
Robert of York, in his Correctorium alchimiae (c. ) suggested that both
the elements with which the alchemist worked and the projecting rays of the
planets … might be arranged according to musical proportions.68
Probably the most quoted passage on alchemy and music appears in Thomas
Norton’s fifteenth-century Ordinall of Alchymy, a work translated into Latin by
Michael Maier and included in his Tripus Aureus (),69 as well as being
popularised in Elias Ashmole’s compendium of English alchemical poetry, the
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (). There, we read:

Joyne your Elements Musically,

For two causes, one is for Melody:
Which there accords will make to your mind,
The trewe effect when that ye shall finde.
And also for like as Diapason,

Maier, Symbola aureae mensae, .
Pantheo, Ars et Theoria (), .
Figulus (ed.), Thesaurinella Olympica, –.
Wellesz, ‘Music in the Treatises of Greek Gnostics and Alchemists’.
Berthelot, Collection des Anciens Alchimistes Grecs,  ff.
Finney, ‘Music’, . Thorndike, A History of Magic, Vol. III, .
Maier (ed.), Tripus Aureus, –.

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 Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () –

With Diapente and with Diatesseron,

With ypate ypaton, and with Lecanos muse,
With other accords which in Musick be,
With their proporcions causen Harmony,
Much like proportions be in Alkimy.70

Here, of course, we are back with Pythagoras, who was said to have discovered
the musical proportions, Diapason (Octave), Diapente (Fifth), and Diatesseron
(Fourth), after hearing a blacksmith’s hammer clanging on his anvil.71 The
Tetraktys ( + + +  = ), which Iamblichus in his Life of Pythagoras calls
‘the harmony in which the Sirens are’,72 embodies the three musical intervals
after Perfect Unison (:): Octave (:), the Perfect Fifth (:) and the Perfect
Fourth (:).73
Returning to Khunrath’s engraving, it is possible that the number of strings
on the four musical instruments alludes to these intervals: the harp has eight
strings, the cittern and the lute both have five strings or courses, and the lyre
four. Pythagorean music theorists like Nicomachus in the first century, related
the Tetraktys to the notes of the classical tetrachords,74 which included the notes
mentioned by Norton, Hypate hypaton and lichanos meson being notes from
the two main scalar systems of ancient Greek music. The most likely source for
Norton’s musical ruminations was Boethius’s early sixth-century De Institutione
musica, the main conduit for the transmission of classical musical theory to the
West. Norton’s Hypate hypaton is the lowest note of the lowest pitched of the
four classical tetrachords. In a chapter discussing which lyre-string is related
to which planet, Boethius recounts that Cicero attributes hypate hypaton to
Mercury and lichanos meson to Saturn.75 As alchemists have the tendency to
translate planets into their respective metals, this would make Philosophical
Mercury the lowest note on the scale, or what Martianus Capella called the
‘principle of principles’ (principalis principalium), a suitable enough location
for the primal matter of the Great Work, while the mean (meson) note, a perfect
fifth higher, would be Lead.76

Norton, The Ordinall of Alchimy, .
See Maier, Intellectual Cantilenae, . See also Kepler, Welt-Harmonik, .
Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life, .
Anderson, ‘Musical Developments’, . Bowen, ‘Ficino’s Analysis’, .
Nicomachus, Harmonices Manuale, .
Boethius, De Musica, cols. –. But see Nicomachus, Harmonices Manuale, ,
, who assigns the lowest note, hypate hypaton, to Saturn, presumably since it is the slowest
moving planet.
Capella, De nuptiis philologi, , Sig. Z.

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The best example, however, of an alchemist’s engagement with music is

Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens—Atalanta fleeing (), a work based on the
Greek myth of the swift-footed huntress Atalanta, who could run faster than
the East Wind and was only prepared to marry a man who could beat her in a
foot race; those suitors who were too slow she killed with her arrows. She was
eventually defeated by Hippomenes who outran her by dropping three golden
apples given to him by Aphrodite in order to distract her from the contest.77
The Author’s Epigram at the start of the work explains this succinctly:

Three Golden Apples from the Hesperian grove.

A present Worthy of the Queen of Love.
Gave wise Hippomenes Eternal Fame.
And Atalanta’s cruel Speed O’ercame.
In Vain he follows ’till with Radiant Light,
One Rolling Apple captivates her Sight.
And by its glittering charms retards her flight. …78

The Epigram also explains the basic alchemical significance of the myth: Ata-
lanta has the volatile nature of quicksilver while Hippomenes has the fiery
nature of sulphur. In medieval chrysopoeia or gold-making alchemy, these were
the two ingredients necessary for the creation of Gold and the Philosophers’

What is Hippomenes, true Wisdom knows.

And whence the Speed of Atalanta Flows.
She with Mercurial Swiftness is Endued,
Which Yields by Sulphur’s prudent Strength pursued.

On the title-page Maier explains that these are ‘New Chymical Emblems of the
Secrets of Nature, adapted partly for the eyes and intellect in figures engraved
on copper, with legends, Epigrams and notes attached, partly for the ears and
the soul’s recreation with some  musical fugues in three voices, of which
two are set to a simple melody suitable for singing the couplets, to be looked
at, read, meditated, understood, weighed, sung and listened to, not without

See Ovid, Metamorphoses .–; Hyginus, Fabulae . For another reference to
the myth in an alchemical context, see [Bonneau], Abrege de l’Astronomie Inferieure, .
Maier, Atalanta fugiens, , . English translation British Library MS. Sloane .
My thanks to Adam Maclean for publishing this on the Alchemy Website: http://www.levity

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 Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () –

a certain pleasure’. Manfred Kelkel suggests that Maier chose the number 
because it represents the sum total of the sides of the regular Platonic solids
(tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, icosahedron), pointing out
that he was in Rudolf II’s court at the same time as Johannes Kepler, author of
the Mysterium Cosmographicum () and Harmonices Mundi (), both of
which deal with melodic proportions and celestial harmonies of the planetary
In the ‘Preface to the Reader’, Maier explains further about his musical

My Muses gives you here three-voiced fugues in order to express this race in such
musical forms as are most similar to it. One voice remains simple, still and withdrawn
and presents the golden apple, but the other, Atalanta, is fugitive and the third [Hip-
pomenes] follows directly after her. Let the fugues proclaim themselves to your ears, and
the emblems to your eyes, and then let your understanding test the mysteries hidden
therein. I have brought you these things that, by way of the senses, it may stimulate
your insight so that you, allured by that, may understand what treasures are hidden

These three voices are, then:

) Atalanta fugiens (Atalanta fleeing) = the ‘Dux’ or ‘Leader’;
) Hippomenes sequens (Hippomenes following) = the ‘Comes’ or ‘Compan-
) Pomum morans (the apple delaying) = Cantus Firmus.

Kelkel, ‘A la recherche d’un art total’, . See Kepler, Le Secret du Monde, facing p.  for
the famous engraving of the  regular bodies. See especially Chapter XII, – ‘Division du
Zodiaque et Aspects’, which includes speculations on musical tones. See also Kepler, Welt-
Harmonik, – ‘Exkurs über die pythagoreische Vierheit’; ‘Über die Zusammensetzung
von Systemen’, –.
This is the rather free English translation of Atalanta fugiens (), . Cf Etienne
Perrot’s more faithful rendition in Atalante Fugitive,  ‘De même que cette Atalante fuit,
une voix musicale fuit toujours devant l’autre, et cette autre la poursuit, comme Hippomène.
Cependant elles sont stabilisées et consolidées dans la troisième qui est simple et d’une seule
valeur comme par une pomme d’or. Cette même vierge est purement chymique; elle est
le mercure philosophique fixé et retenu dans sa fuite par le soufre d’or.’ Here it is worth
mentioning that Maier was familiar with Khunrath’s work, praising his alchemical astuteness
in Examen Fucorum, – passim. The fact that the music in Atalanta fugiens is in the
form of “fugues” should, perhaps, cast Khunrath’s description of sacred music in the Lab-
Oratorium engraving—as that which ‘puts to flight’ (fuga) sadness and evil spirits—in a new

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The music consists of  two-part canons on a single unvarying cantus

firmus, which has been identified as the Christe Eleison from the tenth-century
West Frankish plainchant Kyrie Cunctipotens genitor Deus in the liturgical
Missa in Festis Apostolorum, dating back to the eleventh century.81 F.H. Sawyer
remarks that writing all  canons against the same cantus firmus must have
been a particularly thankless task, noting that it is ‘one of the most extended
examples of Canon against Canto Fermo in existence.’82 Whatever the aesthetic
considerations may be of the value of such a decision, on an alchemical level
the cantus firmus voice of the golden apple forms the common element in all
 pieces, while the voice of Atalanta takes on a new musical form in each
fugue, all three voices relating to one another with different musical intervals
between the voices: fourth, fifth, and so forth. The voice of the apple sometimes
appears as the bass line, sometimes mediates between the two other voices,
and occasionally rises to the highest part, representing the sublimation and
condensation of matter in the alchemical opus. At the end of the book, Maier
includes an ‘Index Fugarum Atalanticarum’ in which he divides the fugues
into groups depending on the intervals between the voices of Atalanta and
Hippomenes.83 In the first fugue, for example, Atalanta has the first voice,
Hippomenes the second, the apple the third. The apple melody, incidentally,
is in the Dorian mode, which the Greeks considered to be an equalising,
balancing mode, suitable here for that which mediates between Atalanta and
Hippomenes. It was also the mode appropriate, incidentally, for the worship
of Apollo, which suits the solar, golden signification of the apples.84 In terms
of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Paracelsian alchemy, the apple could be
argued to represent the third substance of Salt, introduced by Paracelsus to
symbolise the principle that fixes and preserves the volatile Mercury and fiery
Maier’s ‘discourses’ on each of the alchemical engravings provide us little
direct insight into the relation between his music and alchemy, although there
are one or two passages emphasising its importance, including:

The angels sing (as the Holy Scriptures declare), the heavens sing, as Pythagoras
confirmed; and they proclaim the glory of God, as the Psalmist says; the Muses and

Raasveld, ‘Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens ()’, .
Sawyer, ‘The Music in “Atalanta Fugiens” ’, . For more information on the Cantus
Firmus, with passing references to Maier, see Sawyer. ‘The Use and Treatment of Canto
Maier, Atalanta fugiens (), Ddv.
Godwin, Atalanta fugiens, .

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Apollo sing, as the poets say; men and even children sing, birds sing, sheep and geese
sing on their musical instruments; so if we too sing, we don’t do it without reason.85

Maier gives us at least a hint of what he intends in his commentary on the

first engraving, which portrays Boreas the North Wind, carrying a foetus in
his belly, alluding to the line from the Emerald Tablet concerning ‘The wind
bore it in its belly’. Maier explains that this should be understood on various
levels of meaning:

Chymically, it is sulphur, which is carried in quicksilver … Physically, it is the foetus

… Arithmetically, it is the Cube root; Musically, it is the Disdiapason; Geometrically,
it is the initial point of the flowing line; Astronomically, it is the centre of the planets
Saturn, Jupiter and Mars.86

A hunt through Maier’s other works for further references to the Pythagorean
intervals in relation to alchemy turns up little more.87 In his Viatorium, On the
mountains of the seven planets or metals, published a year after Atalanta fugiens
in , writing of two different kinds of sulphur, Maier states that

one is the cause of blackness, imperfection, and destruction of metals; the other of
yellowness, perfection and their endurance in fire, whence the Double Octave, by
which they say that these two sulphurs differ from one another.88

Perhaps we can imagine that with these harmonic relationships between the
two substances (the Disdiapason or Double Octave has the ratio :), Maier
had something similar in mind to Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia, where in a
chapter on ‘the Celestial bodies, and what harmony and sound is correspondent
of every Star’, he writes that ‘between Fire and Aire … there ariseth … an
Harmony of a double Diapason and a Diapente … Betwixt the Aire and Water
… Diapason and Diapente’, and so forth.89 Furthermore, Agrippa informs us,

Maier, Atalanta fugiens, , .
Maier, Atalanta fugiens, . Cf Robert Fludd (–), Utriusque Cosmi Historia,
Vol. ,  ‘Nam terra in musica mundana se habet, ut [gamma] in musica, unita in
Arithmetica & punctum in Geometria: Est enim quasi terminus, a quo ratio materiae
proportionalis habenda est.’
Although he does not discuss music, Maier does refer to the myth of Atalanta and
Hippomenes in the Cantilenae. See Chansons intellectuelles, .
Maier, Viatorium, .
Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta philosophia, Lib. , Cap. xxvi, .

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the distance between the earth and the moon is , miles, which equals
one tone; the distance between the moon and mercury is imagined to be half
that distance, therefore a semi-tone. It is conceivable that an alchemist could
translate the astronomical correlation between planetary distances and musical
consonances into an alchemical relationship between the weight of substances
and musical intervals.
Although critics have been less than complementary about some of Maier’s
musical compositions, there is a certain degree of sophistication in some of
the fugues.90 Hildemarie Streich, Manfred Kelkel, and Jacques Rebotier each
identify several techniques employed at significant moments in the sequence.
For example, in the first  fugues all three voices move in the same direc-
tion, but in Fugue  there is a change and the voice of the Apple suddenly
moves in the opposite retrograde direction, the crab or cancrizans motion, a
compositional technique in which the voice is read backwards, from the back
to the front. Streich and Kelkel suggest that this is the moment when Hip-
pomenes drops the first Apple and Atalanta stoops to pick it off the ground.91
In Fugue  Maier employs the technique of the proportional canon, in which
the imitating voice moves in longer or shorter note-values than the leading
voice. For the first time the voice of Hippomenes begins at the same time as
those of Atalanta and the Apple, but his voice hurries ahead of the others, sug-
gesting that he has seized his chance to beat Atalanta at her game and win the
In conclusion, let us return, with a somewhat crab-like motion, to Khun-
rath’s ambiguously named Amphitheatre, stadium for footraces and stage for
musical and dramatic performances. Its engravings, in particular that of the
Lab-Oratorium embrace both possibilities and constantly reinforce the impor-
tance of harmonious balance between different domains. The musical instru-
ments so invitingly laid out for us to pluck or strum intimate of the necessary
combination of theory and practice, spirit and matter, of becoming intellectu-
ally and physically attuned to the Creator and his creation, with the Hermetic
understanding that true knowledge of music means knowing the arrangement
of all things and that ‘this ordering of all separate things into one, achieved
by skillful reason, makes the sweetest and truest harmony with the Divine

Sawyer, ‘The Music in “Atalanta Fugiens” ’, .
Kelkel, ‘A la recherche d’un art total’, ; Streich, ‘Musikalische und psychologische
Entsprechungen’, ; Rebotier, ‘La musique cachée’.
Streich, ‘Musikalische und psychologische Entsprechungen’, .

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 Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () –

Song’.93 Ultimately, it encapsulates the Pythagorean belief that the supreme

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of Divine Wisdom”.94

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Peter J. Forshaw / ARIES . () – 

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