Michael Maier

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Not to be confused with the Czech sailor Michal Maier.
Copper engraving of Michael Maier, from the 12th page of Symbola avreae mensae dvodecim nationvm; engraving from 1617 by Matthäus Merian. His coat of arms depicts a bird, bonded together with frog by a golden chain.

Michael Maier (1568–1622) was a German physician and counsellor to Rudolf II Habsburg, a learned alchemist, epigramist and amateur composer.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Discursus XXXI, Epigramma XXXI, from Atalanta fugiens, 1617

Maier was born in Rendsburg, Holstein, the son of a specialist in beadwork in embroidery named Peter Maier.[1] He studied philosophy and medicine at Rostock (1587–1591), Frankfurt (Oder) (M.A. 1592), and Padua (1595–1596).[1] Maier left Padua abruptly after getting involved in a fight, injuring the other party, and being arrested.[1] He went on to Basel, where he attained a doctorate in medicine in October 1596. His doctoral thesis, De epilepsia was dedicated to Matthias Carnarius.[1]

Maier then returned to Holstein to practice medicine. Around 1599, he became interested in alchemy and attempted to create an alchemical concordance, synthesizing the works of different authors.[1] In 1608, he went to Prague, and on 19 September 1609, he formally entered the service of Rudolf II as his physician and imperial counsellor. Ten days later, Rudolf raised him to the hereditary nobility and gave him the title of imperial count palatine.[1] Around this time, Maier published an extremely limited print run of De Medicina Regia et vere Heroica, Coelidonia (1609), including in it his autobiography. The interest of the emperor in the occult was the reason of his high esteem for Maier. Nonetheless, in April 1611, Maier left Rudolf's court and went in search of a new patron. He corresponded with Moritz of Hessen-Kassel, and visited Hessen-Kassel's brother-in-law, Count Ernst III of Holstein-Schauenburg. He was also a guest of Christoph Reinhard, Doctor of Laws and town syndic of Mühlhausen, to whom he later dedicated his book Atalanta Fugiens.[1]

Between 1611 and 1616, Maier spent time in England at the court of James I. His first well-known book, Arcana arcanissima, was published in London in 1613 or 1614, and he dedicated copies to a number of notables, including the Bishop of Ely and Sir Thomas Smith of the East India Company.[1]

Maier returned to Germany in September 1616, settling in Frankfurt, Germany.[1] His Atalanta Fugiens, an alchemical emblem book, was published in 1617. Alongside images, poems, and discussion, it included fifty pieces of music in the form of fugues, the form itself being a pun on Atalanta "fleeing". In 1619, Maier became the physician of Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel). In 1620, he moved to Magdeburg to practice medicine, where he died at the age of 54, leaving a noteworthy quantity of unpublished works.

A devout Lutheran all his life, Michael Maier had a strong influence on Sir Isaac Newton. He was also involved in the Rosicrucian movement that appeared around this time, which afforded part of the matter of his Themis aurea.[2]


The 1656 English translation of Themis Aurea appeared as Themis Aurea: The Laws of the Fraternity of the Rosie Cross, and was dedicated to Elias Ashmole.[3] Under the initials N.L.T.S. and H.S. the dedicators justified their dedication over three pages; they are now identified as Nathaniel Hodges, and Thomas Hodges (either his father or his brother, both of that name).[4] Ashmole, they said, began to learn seal engraving, casting in sand, and goldsmith's work when living in Blackfriars, London, at which time he was initiated into rosicrucian "secrets" by William Backhouse of Swallowfield in Berkshire.[5] While illustrating the chain of Rosie Cross links from Michael Maier and Robert Fludd, via Backhouse to Ashmole, the details given about Ashmole's training as a craftsman could illustrate the background of the latter's acception in operative masonry.

Maier's Septimana Philosophica: Qua Aenigmata Aureola de omni Naturae genere a Solomone Israelitarum Sapientissimo Rege, et Arabiae Regina Saba, nec non Hyramo, Tyri Principe, sibi invicem in modum Colloquii proponuntur et enodatur -Francfurti Typis Hartmanni Palthenii 1620[6] has Salomon, Sheba, and Hiram of Tyre discuss the secrets of the universe. Over six days of the week -the seventh being Sabbath day- they investigate the nature of the universe from mineral to man. Under Vegetable Life the Rose is described. White and Red, the colours for Silver and Gold: "The center of the Rose is green- an emblem of the green Lion which philosophers know well."[7] The conference on man is illustrated with a print representing a globe in a frame, supported on the one side by a masculine figure with a compass, on the other by a skeleton holding a vase with smoking contents.[8]

James Brown Craven, who gave detailed descriptions of the works above in his catalogue raissonée (1910) of Michael Maier, also included the 1654 English translation of Lusus Serius: or, Serious Passtime. A Philosophical Discourse ...wherein Hermes or Mercury is declared King of all Worldly things. The copy from the Bodleian Library described by Craven[9] was dedicated "To the Honourable Cary Dillon, Esq., Son to Robert, late Earle of Roscommon by J. de la Salle" [i.e., John Hall of Durham]. This is a fair example of the intellectual circle in which Maier's work circulated contemporary with the association of Rosie Cross with Elias Ashmole.

What Craven described as "one of the most curious and rare of Maier's books" he knew only in a 1758 French translation[10] Michael Maieri Cantilenae Intelectuales de Phoenice Redivivo; ou Chansons Intelectuelles sur la resurection Du Phenix...traduites...par M.L.L.M.. The original was first printed in Rome 1622, the translation is from the 1623 print at Rostock.

  • "The title promises much- "Nine Triads of Intellectual Songs on the Resurrection of the Phoenix: or the most precious of all medicines, the Mirror and abridgement of this Universe, proposed less to the ear than to the mind, and presented to the wise as the key of the three impenetrable Secrets of Chemistry."
The plan of the squared Triads:-
1.The names.
2.The allegories.
3.The application of the Mysteries of the Art to those of Religion.
The volume is dedicated to Frederick, Prince of Norway."
J.B.Craven in Count Michael Maier - Life and Writings Kirkwall 1910


With modern editions and translations where relevant:

  • De Medicina Regia et vere heroica, Coelidonia. 1609.
  • Hymnosophia.
  • Arcana arcanissima, hoc est, Hieroglyphica AEgyptio-Graeca: vulgo necdum cognita, ad demonstrandam falsorum apud antiquos deorum, dearum, heroum, animantium, et institutorum pro sacris receptorum, originem, ex uno AEgyptiorum artificio, quad aureum animi et Corporis medicamentum peregit, deductam: unde tot poetarum allegoriae, scriptorum narrationes fabulosae et per totam encyclopaediam errores sparsi clarissima veritatis luce manifestantur, suaque tribui singula restituuntur, sex libris exposita. London: Creede, 1614.[11]
  • De Circulo physico, quadrato: Hoc est, de Auro ejusque virtute medicinali, sub duro cortice instar nuclei latente, an et qualis inde petenda sit tractatus haut inutilis. Oppenheim: Lucas Jennis, 1616.
  • Silentium Post Clamores, 1617.
  • Symbola aureae mensae duodecim nationum, hoc est Hermaea seu Mercurii festa ab heroibus duodenis selectis, artis chymicae usu, sapientia et authoritate paribus celebrata, ad Pyrgopolynicen seu adversarium illum tot annis jactabundum, virgini Chemiae injuriam argumentis tam vitiosis quam convitiis argutis inferentem, confundendum et exarmandum, artifices vero optime de ea meritos suo honori et famae restituendum. Frankfurt a. M: Lucas Jennis, 1617.
  • Atalanta Fugiens, hoc est, Emblemata Nova de Secretis Naturae Chymica, Accommodata partim oculis et intellectui, figuris cupro incisis, adjectisquesententiis, Epigrammatis et notis, partim auribus & recreationi animi plus minus 50 Fugis Musicalibus trium Vocum, quarum duae ad unam simplicem melodiam distichis canendis peraptam, correspondeant, non absq; singulari jucunditate videnda, legenda, meditanda, intelligenda, dijudicanda, canenda et audienda. Oppenheim: Johann Theodori de Bry, 1617.
  • Examen Fucorum Pseudo-Chymicorum. 1617.
  • Jocus Severus. Frankfurt, 1617.
  • (ed.), Tripus Aureus, hoc est, Tres Tractatus Chymici Selectissimi, nempe; I. Basilii Valentini, Benedictini Ordinis monachi, Germani, Practica vna cum 12. clauibus & appendice, ex Germanico; II. Thomas Nortoni, Angli Philosophi Crede Mihi seu Ordinale, ante annos 140. ab authore scriptum, nunc ex Anglicano manuscripto in Latinum translatum, phrasi cuiusque authoris vt & sententia retenta; III. Cremeri cuiusdam Abbatis Westmonasteriensis Angli Testamentum, hactenus nondum publicatum, nunc in diuersarum nationum gratiam editi, & figuris cupro affabre incisis ornati opera & studio. Frankfurt a. M.: Lucas Jennis,1618.
  • Viatorium. Frankfurt, 1618.
  • Themis Aurea, hoc est, de Legibus Fraternitatis R. C. tractatus, quo earum cum rei veritate convenientia, utilitas publica et privata, nec non causa necessaria, evoluntur et demonstrantur. 1618.
  • Tractus de Volugri Arborea. 1619.
  • Verum Inventum. 1619.
  • Lusus Serius. Oppenheim, 1619.
  • Septimana Philosophica: Qua Aenigmata Aureola de omni Naturae genere a Solomone Israelitarum Sapientissimo Rege, et Arabiae Regina Saba, nec non Hyramo, Tyri Principe, sibi invicem in modum Colloquii proponuntur et enodatu. 1620.
  • Civitas Corporis Humani. 1621.
  • Cantilenae Intelectuales de Phoenice Redivivo; ou Chansons Intelectuelles sur la resurection Du Phenix. 1622.[12]
  • Ulysses. Sapientia seu intelligentia, tanquam coelestis scintilla beatitudinis, quod si in fortunae et corporis bonis naufragium faciat, ad portum meditationis et patientiae remingio feliciter se expediat. 1624. (Posthumous)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Figala, Karin; Neumann, Ulrich (1990). "Michael Maier (1569-1622): New Bio-Bibliographical Material". In Martels, Z.R.W.M. von. Alchemy revisited : proceedings of the International conference on the history of alchemy at the University of Groningen, 17-19 April 1989 (1ª ed.). Leiden: E.J. Brill. pp. 34–50. ISBN 9004092870. 
  2. ^ Hereward Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Alchemy and Rosicrucianism in the Work of Count Michael Maier (1569–1622 (de Gruyter) 2003:30ff "Spiritual alchemy, Rosicrucianism and the work of Count Michael Maier".
  3. ^ James Brown Craven, Count Michael Maier - Life and Writings Kirkwall, 1910 reprinted by photolithography Unwin Brothers 1968 SBN 7129 0335 6 pg 98
  4. ^ King, Helen. "Hodges, Nathaniel". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/66142.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 99
  6. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 132
  7. ^ Craven 1910, pg 136
  8. ^ Craven 1910, pg 138
  9. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 53
  10. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 146. The work (1758) is in Latin and French, in parallel pages.
  11. ^ Commented French edition Feye, 2005.
  12. ^ Modern edition with German commentaries Leibenguth, 2007.


  • Paul Arnold, Histoire des Rose-Croix, Mercure de France, Paris, 1955.
  • Florin-George Calian, Spiritual alchemy and the function of image : coincidentia oppositorum in Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens, Budapest: CEU, Budapest College, 2009. [1]
  • James Brown Craven, D.D. Rector of St Olaf's Church, Kirkwall, Count Michael Maier, Doctor of Philosophy and Of Medicine, Alchemist, Rosicrucian, Mystic -1568-1622- Life and Writings William Peace & Son, Albert Street Kirkwall, 1910; reprinted 1968, Dawsons of Pall Mall 'SBN 7129 033'5 6 also Berwick: Ibis Press, 2003. ISBN 0-89254-083-4
  • Stéphane Feye (ed./transl.), Les arcanes très secrets de Michaël Maiër, Grez-Doiceau: Beya, 2005.
  • Hans van Kasteel (ed./transl.), La Table d'or de Michaël Maïer, Grez-Doiceau: Beya, 2015.
  • H.M.E. de Jong, Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens: Sources of an Alchemical Book of Emblems, York Beach: Nicolas-Hays, 2002. ISBN 0-87728-948-4
  • Erik Leibenguth, Hermetische Poesie des Frühbarock, Die 'Cantilenae intellectuales’ Michael Maiers, Edition mit Übersetzung, Kommentar und Bio-Bibliographie, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2002. ISBN 978-3-484-36566-7
  • John Warwick Montgomery, "Lutheran Astrology and Alchemy in the Age of the Reformation", Ambix: The Journal of the Society for the Study of Alchemy and Early Chemistry, Vol. 11 (June 1963), pp. 65–86.
  • Hereward Tilton, "The Life and Work of Count Michael Maier (1569-1622): Understanding Christian Alchemy in the German Calvinist States", Theology and Religion, Vol. 1 (1999), pp. 23–42.
  • Hereward Tilton, The Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Alchemy and Rosicrucianism in the Work of Count Michael Maier (1569-1622) de Gruyter, 2003. [2]

External links[edit]

Media related to Michael Maier at Wikimedia Commons