Transmuting sericon: Alchemy as “practical exegesis” in early modern England

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An influential strand of English alchemy was the pursuit of the “vegetable stone,” a medicinal elixir popularized by George Ripley (d. ca. 1490), made from a metallic substance, “sericon.” Yet the identity of sericon was not fixed, undergoing radical reinterpretation between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries as Ripley’s leadbased practice was eclipsed by new methods, notably the antimonial approach of George Starkey (1628–65). Tracing “sericonian” alchemy over 250 years, I show how alchemists fed their practical findings back into textual accounts, creating a “feedback loop” in which the authority of past adepts was maintained by exegetical manipulations—a process that I term “practical exegesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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