Michael Maier

Michael Maier
Copper engraving of Michael Maier at the age of 48, from the Atalanta fugiens; engraving from 1617 by Matthäus Merian.

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



Maier was born in Rendsburg, Holstein, in 1568. He studied philosophy and medicine at Rostock (1587), Frankfurt (Oder) (M.A. 1592), and Padua. He attained in 1596 a doctorate in medicine at Basel, and returned to Rostock to practice the medical profession. He also briefly (c. 1601) practised in Königsberg and Danzig. Around this time he became interested in alchemy. In 1608 he went to Prague, and in 1609 became the physician and imperial counsellor of Rudolf II. The interest of the emperor in the occult was the reason of his high esteem for Maier. Maier wrote a commentary on Hermes Trismegistus and was dedicated, along with the emperor, to researching the secrets of nature.

Emblem woodcut from Atalanta fugiens, 1617

Between 1611 and 1616, Maier spent time in England at the court of James I, and also served other German princes, particularly the prince of Nassau, a great protector of alchemy. 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 he became the physician of Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel). In 1620 he moved to Magdeburg to practice medicine, where he died in 1622 at the age of 54, leaving a noteworthy quantity of unpublished works.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.[1]


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.[2] 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).[3] 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.[4] 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[5] has Salomon, Sheba, and Hiram of Tyre discuss on 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."[6] 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.[7]

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[8] 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[9] 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 Regina. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. (Posthumus)


  1. ^ 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".
  2. ^ James Brown Craven, Count Michael Maier - Life and Writings Kirkwall, 1910 reprinted by photolithography Unwin Brothers 1968 SBN 7129 0335 6 pg 98
  3. ^ King, Helen, "Hodges, Nathaniel", on the website of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Subscription or UK public library membership required), http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/66142 
  4. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 99
  5. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 132
  6. ^ Craven 1910, pg 136
  7. ^ Craven 1910, pg 138
  8. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 53
  9. ^ Craven, 1910 pg 146. The work (1758) is in Latin and French, in parallel pages.


  • 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 B. Craven, Count Michael Maier, doctor of philosophy and of medicine, alchemist, Rosicrucian, mystic 1568-1622: life and writings, Berwick: Ibis Press, 2003. ISBN 0892540834
  • H.M.E. de Jong, Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens: Sources of an Alchemical Book of Emblems, York Beach: Nicolas-Hays, 2002. ISBN 0877289484
  • 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]
  • James Brown Craven, D.D. Rector of St Olaf's Church, Kirkwall, Count Michael Maier, Doctor of Philosophy and Of Medicine, Alchimist, Rosicrucian, Mystic -1568-1622- Life and Writings William Peace & Son, Albert Street Kirkwall, 1910; reprinted 1968, Dawsons of Pall Mall SBN 7129 0335 6

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