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The Centre of Nature: Baron Johann Otto von Hellwig between a Global Network and a Universal Republic

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image of Early Science and Medicine

A large network of alchemical agents spread from the tiny, land-locked duchy of Saxe- Gotha-Altenburg outward across Europe. At its centre, Duke Friedrich I (1646–1691) meticulously documented his interactions with many alchemical personalities during the 1670s and 1680s. The story of one such personality illustrates the changing meanings of distant alchemical knowledge both to the inner circle of courtly alchemists and to a larger alchemical republic. Born near Gotha, Johann Otto von Hellwig (1654–1698) built his pan-European career on a youthful stay on Java. To some, this indicated his access to exotic naturalia which might be imported to a centre of collection, such as Gotha. For others, Hellwig could access a wisdom hidden abroad since ancient Egypt, which should be disseminated among widely dispersed adepts. These viewpoints indicate different functions for distant knowledge, as well as differing desired trajectories for this knowledge.


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