Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker


Lecture 7.  Old/New Ideas


Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576)
Jerome Cardan
Hieronymus Cardanus
1501 born in Pavia, Italy; father was a lawyer, and friend of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
1520 entered University of Pavia to study medicine
1545 published Ars magna, a book on mathematics in which he announced algebraic solutions to cubic (x3) and quartic (x4) equations
1550 published De subtilitate, a 20-book encyclopedia of knowledge about the natural and spiritual world
1570 accused of heresy for computing and publishing the horoscope of Jesus
1576 published his autobiography:  De vita propria

De Subtilitate (On Subtility, 1550) is a compendium of all knowledge modeled after the works of Aristotle.  The twenty-one books it contains cover a wide range of subjects:

  1. Principles of Matter
  2. The Elements
  3. The Heavens
  4. Light and Clarity
  5. Mixtio (Compound Matter)
  6. Properties of Metals
  7. Stones
  8. Trees and Plants
  9. Animals Engendered from Putrefaction
  10. Higher Order Animals
  1. Man:  Form
  2. Man:  Nature and Temperament
  3. Sense and Sensation
  4. Soul and Intellect
  5. Harmful Substances
  6. Sciences
  7. Arts and Inventions
  8. Marvels
  9. Demons
  10. Primal Matter
  11. God and the Universe

The work attracted many readers and was soon (1560) translated into French which made it accessible to many outside the traditional circles of learned society.  Demand for new copies kept Cardan's De Subtilitate in print and common use throughout the seventeenth century.

In the books on metals and stones, Cardan made a forceful argument for his view that these bodies are alive:  they grow; like plants, they exhibit roots and branches and fruit; they take in lifeless matter from their surroundings and convert it (through natural digestive processes) into material that sustains and augments their being; they age; and they suffer death.

Minerals, particularly metals, were the subject of much interest in the mountainous regions of what is now Germany.  Mines in the Harz mountains of Saxony had been active since the time of Charlemagne (742-814).  Operations in the Saxon mines, just as in those of the Greeks and Romans, were carried out by slaves.  With no power tools or explosives, tunneling through the hard rock was slow and difficult with progress averaging only about 10 inches/day.  New mines were found in neighboring areas, like the Erzgebirge range separating Saxony and Bohemia.  Eventually these mines became the most prosperous in all Europe.

Landowners opened their estates to prospectors who had becme adept at looking for minerals.  Some of these prospectors were former serfs.  A prospector staking a claim could sell the minerals he found after paying a royalty to the landowner.  Mine owners became financiers and creditors of the royal courts of Europe.

The first known work on mining geology:

Ein Nützlich Berg
büchlin von allen Metallen
als Golt / Silber / Zeyn / Kupfer
ertz / Eisen stein / Bleyertz / und
vom Quecksilber.

A Useful Booklet on Mountains
on all the Metals including Gold, Silver, Tin, Copper, Iron, Lead and Quicksilver (Mercury)

(first printed c. 1505)
probably written by Freiberg physician
Dr. Ulrich Rühlein von Kalbe

This little book was written in German and intended to be used as something akin to a field manual, not by learned scholars, but by literate individuals associated with the mining trade.  It had only ten brief chapters.  The first four offered general information about the nature and formation of minerals.  Each of the following six chapters was devoted to one of the six precious metals. 

Here's an excerpt.  How do von Kalbe's views on minerals compare with those of Paracelsus and Cardan?:

The general worker (efficient force) on the ore and on all things that are born, is the heavens, its movements, its light and influences, as the philosophers say.

The influence of the heavens is multiplied by the movement of the firmaments and the movements of the seven planets.  Therefore, every metallic ore receives a special influence from its own particular planet, due to the properties of the planet and of the ore, also due to the properties of heat, cold, dampness, and dryness.

Thus gold is of the Sun or its influence, silver of the Moon, tin of Jupiter, copper of Venus, iron of Mars, lead of Saturn, and quicksilver of Mercury.  Therefore metals are often called by these names by hermits and other philosophers.  Thus gold is called the Sun, in Latin Sol, silver is called the Moon, in Latin Luna, as is clearly stated in the special chapters on each metal.

Thus briefly have we spoken of the 'common worker' of metal and ore.  But the thing worked upon, or the common material of all metals, according to the opinion of the learned, is sulphur and quicksilver, which through the movement and influence of the heavens must have become united and hardened into one metallic body or one ore.

Certain others hold that through the movememt and the influence of the heavens, vapours or braden, called mineral exhalations, are drawn up from the depths of the earth, from sulphur and quicksilver, and the rising fumes pass into the veins and stringers and are united through the effect of the planets and made into ore.

Certain others hold that metal is not formed from quicksilver, because in many places metallic ore is found and no quicksilver.  But instead of quicksilver they maintain a damp and cold and slimy material is set up on all sulphur which is drawn out from the earth, like your perspiration, and from that mixed with sulphur all metals are formed.

Now each of these opinions is correct according to a good understanding and right interpretation; the ore or metal is formed from the fattiness of the earth as the material of the first degree (primary element), also the vapours or braden on the one part and the materials on the other part, both of which are called quicksilver.  Likewise in the mingling or union of the quicksilver and the sulphur in the ore, the sulphur is counted the male and the quicksilver the female, as in the bearing or conception of a child.  Also the sulphur is a special worker in ore or metal.

In 1516, one of the greatest silver strikes in history was made near the town of Joachimstal.  At its peak of operation, this mine generated 300 million ounces (roughly 10,000 tons!) of silver per year.  Much of the mined silver was exported and silver became the principal coinage of Europe.  The coins were called "joachimstalers", which was soon shortened to "'thalers" from which our own word "dollar" is derived.

German Empire around 1550

Georg Bauer, Georgius Agricola (1494-1555)

1494 born, Glauchau, Saxony
1514 entered University of Leipzig
1518 teacher/administrator at school in Zwickau
1522 lecturer at University of Leipzig
1524 went to Italy (Bologna, Padua and Ferrara)

studied philosophy and medicine

met humanist, Erasmus (1466-1536)

1526 returned to Zwickau
1527 became physician for town of Joachimstal
1530 published little book on mining terminology
1531 published pamphlet on the Turks
1533 published book on weights and measures

began work on De Re Metallica

named city physician at Chemnitz

1544 began work on and published series of books on:
  • physical geology
  • subterranean waters and gases
  • mineralogy
  • the history of metals 
  • mineralogical and metallurgical terminology 
  • animals that live underground
1546 appointed Burgomaster of Chemnitz
1550 completed De Re Metallica 
1555 died at Chemnitz
1556 De Re Metallica published

Agricola's contributions:
  • Looked to natural causes of geological forms
  • Urged direct observation rather than speculation
  • First to point out role of erosion in shaping of mountain masses, origins of ores
  • Classified minerals on basis of their properties
    • solubility
    • homogeneity
    • color
    • hardness
  • Distinguished metals from other stones
  • Added antimony and bismuth to list of true primary metals
  • Added 20 new species to existing list of 60 known minerals
De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum (1546)
[On Origins and Causes Under the Earth]

How do Agricola's views on minerals compare with those of Paracelsus, Cardan, and van Kalbe?

A, B--Veins; C, D, E--Stringers.  From Book III, De Re Metallica.

Ore deposits are found in openings in the earth (canales) that are formed by the erosion of subterranean waters.

"[T]he canales ... are veins, veinlets, and what are called 'seams in the rocks.'  These serve as vessels or receptacles for the material from which minerals are formed.  The term vena is most frequently given to what is contained in the canales, but likewise the same name is applied to the canales themselves.  The term vein is borrowed from that used for animals, for just as their veins are distributed through all parts of the body, and just as by means of the veins blood is diffused from the liver throughout the whole body, so also the veins traverse the whole globe, and more particularly the mountainous districts; and water runs and flows through them.  With regard to veinlets or stringers and 'seams in the rocks,' which are the thinnest stringers, the following is the mode of their arrangement.  Veins in the earth, just like the veins of an animal, have certain veinlets of their own, but in a contrary way.  For the larger veins of animals pour blood into the veinlets, while in the earth the humors are usually poured from the veinlets into the larger veins, and rarely flow from the larger into the smaller ones.  As for the seams in the rocks we consider that they are produced by two methods:  by the first, which is peculiar to themselves, they are formed at the same time as the rocks, for the heat bakes the refractory material into stone and the non-refractory material similarly heated exhales its humors and is made into 'earth,' generally friable.  The other method is common also to veins and veinlets, when water is collected into one place it softens the rocks by its liquid nature, and by its weight and pressure breaks and divides it.  Now, if the rock is hard, it makes seams in the rocks and veinlets, and if it is not too hard it makes veins...." -- from De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum.

Underground waters come from:

  • infiltration of surface waters, rain, river, and sea water
  • condensation of steam resulting from heating the ground water that has penetrated deep into the earth

Canales can be filled with:

  • earth (clay, mud, ochre, marl...)
    originate from rocks due to erosion, transportation, and deposition by water
  • solidified juice (salt, soda, vitriol, bitumen...)
    substances soluble in water and deposited by the water's evaporation
  • stone (precious, semi-precious, and unusual stones...)
    originate in ordinary mineral juice and from "stone juice"
  • metal (iron, lead, silver, gold...)
    originate from "metal juice"
  • compound (metallic minerals)
    originate from "mixed juice"

Each substance has its own particular juice.

Juices are generated by the solution of their own particular substance, but mainly come from combining "dry things" such as "earth" with water.

Juices may be solidified by heat (evaporation) or cold (gelling).

excerpts from
De Re Metallica (1556)
by Georgius Agricola (1494-1555)
  • written in Latin
  • immediately translated into German and Italian
  • reissued in ten editions. 
  • leading text for miners and metallurgists for nearly 2 centuries 
  • English translation by Herbert and Lou Hoover (1912)
Book I.

Many persons hold the opinion that the metal industries are fortuitous and that the occupation is one of sordid toil, and altogether a kind of business requiring not so much skill as labor.  But as for myself, when I reflect carefully upon its special points one by one, it appears to be far otherwise.  For a miner must have the greatest skill in his work, that he may know first of all what mountain or hill, what valley or plain, can be prospected most profitably, or what he should leave alone; moreover, he must understand the veins, stringers [smaller veins that intersect with larger veins] and seams in the rocks.  Then he must be thoroughly familiar with the many and varied species of earths, juices [substance which dissolves when put into liquid], gems, stones, marbles, rocks, metals, and compounds.


He must also have a complete knowledge of the method of making all underground works.  Lastly, there are various systems of assaying substances and of preparing them for smelting; and here again there are many altogether diverse methods.  For there is one method for gold and silver, another for copper, another for quicksilver, another for iron, another for lead, and even tin and bismuth are treated differently from lead.  Although the evaporation of juices is an art apparently quite distinct from metallurgy, yet they ought not to be considered separately, in as much as these juices are also often dug out of the ground solidified, or they are produced from certain kinds of earth and stones which the miners dig up, and some of the juices are not themselves devoid of metals.  Again, their treatment is not simple, since there is one method for common salt, another for soda, another for alum, another for vitriol [green vitriol, or iron sulfate], another for sulfur, and another for bitumen.

Furthermore, there are many arts and sciences of which a miner should not be ignorant.

  • First there is Philosophy, that he may discern the origin, cause, and nature of subterranean things; for then he will be able to dig out the veins easily and advantageously, and to obtain more abundant results from his mining.
  • Secondly, there is Medicine, that he may be able to look after his diggers and other workmen, that they do not meet with those diseases to which they are more liable than workmen in other occupations, or if they do meet with them, that he himself may be able to heal them or may see that the doctors do so.
  • Thirdly follows Astronomy, that he may know the divisions of the heavens and from them judge the direction of the veins.
  • Fourthly, there is the science of Surveying that he may be able to estimate how deep a shaft should be sunk to reach the tunnel which is being driven to it, and to determine the limits and boundaries in these workings, especially in depth.
  • Fifthly, his knowledge of Arithmetical Science should be such that he may calculate the cost to be incurred in the machinery and the working of the mine.
  • Sixthly, his learning must comprise Architecture, that he himself may construct the various machines and timber work required underground, or that he may be able to explain the method of the construction to others.
  • Next, he must have knowledge of Drawing, that he can draw plans of his machinery.
  • Lastly, there is the Law, especially that dealing with metals, that he may claim his own rights, that he may undertake the duty of giving others his opinion on legal matters, that he may not take another man's property and so make trouble for himself, and that he may fulfill his obligations to others according to the law.
It is therefore necessary that those who take an interest in the methods and precepts of mining and metallurgy should read these and others of our books studiously and diligently; or on every point they should consult expert mining people, though they will discover few who are skilled in the whole art.  As a rule one man understands only the methods of mining, another possesses the knowledge of washing, another is experienced in the art of smelting, another has a knowledge of measuring the hidden parts of the earth, another is skilful in the art of making machines, and finally, another is learned in mining law.  But as for us, though we may not have perfected the whole art of the discovery and preparation of metals, at least we can be of great assistance to persons studious in its acquisition....

Book II.

... Now a miner, before he begins to mine the veins, must consider seven things, namely:--the situation, the conditions, the water, the roads, the climate, the right of ownership, and the neighbors.  There are four kinds of situations--mountain, hill, valley, and plain.  Of these four, the first two are the most easily mined, because in them tunnels can be driven to drain off the water, which often makes mining operations very laborious, if it does not stop them altogether.  The last two kinds of ground are more troublesome, especially because tunnels cannot be driven in such places....

With regard to the conditions of the locality the miner should not contemplate mining without considering whether the place be covered with trees or is bare.  If it be a wooded place, he who digs there has this advantage, besides others, that there will be an abundant supply of wood for his underground timbering, his machinery, buildings, smelting, and other necessities....

The miner should next consider the locality, as to whether it has a perpetual supply of running water, or whether it is always devoid of water except when a torrent supplied by rains flows down from the summits of the mountains....  [T]o convey a constant supply of water by artificial means to mines where Nature has denied it access, or to convey the ore to the stream, increases the expense greatly, in proportion to the distance the mines are away from the river.

The miner also should consider whether the roads from the neighboring regions to the mines are good or bad, short or long....

Then, the miner should make careful and thorough investigation concerning the lord of the locality, whether he be a just and good man or a tyrant, for the latter oppresses men by force of his authority, and seizes their possessions for himself but the former governs justly and lawfully and serves the common good....

The miner should try to obtain a mine, to which access is not difficult, in a mountainous region, gently sloping, wooded, healthy, safe, and not far distant from a river or stream by means of which he may convey his mining products to be washed and smelted....

Book III.

... [N]ow I come to the third book, which is about veins and stringers, and the seams in the rocks.  The term "vein" is sometimes used to indicate canales in the earth ... I now attach a second significance to these words, for by them I mean to designate any mineral substances which the earth keeps hidden within her own deep receptacles....

A great number of miners consider that the best veins in depth are those which run from the ... east to the ... west, through a mountain slope which inclines to the north....  Therefore they devote all their energies to those veins, and give very little or nothing to those whose heads ... rise toward the south or west....  And they say that from veins of this kind, since the sun's rays draw out the metallic material, very little metal is gained.  But in this matter the actual experience of the miners who thus judge of the veins does not always agree with their opinions, nor is their reasoning sound....

It may be denied that the heat of the sun draws the metallic material out of these veins; for though it draws up vapors from the surface of the ground, the rays of the sun do not penetrate right down to the depths; because the air of a tunnel which is covered and enveloped by solid earth to the depth of only two fathoms is cold in summer, for the intermediate earth holds in check the fore of the sun....  Therefore it is unlikely that the sun draws out from within the earth the metallic bodies.  Indeed, it cannot even dry the moisture of many places abounding in veins, because they are protected and shaded by the trees....

Book VI.

...It remains for me to speak of the ailments and accidents of miners, and of the methods by which they can guard against these, for we should always devote more care to the maintaining our health, that we may freely perform our bodily functions, than to making profits.  Of the illnesses, some affect the joints, others attack the lungs, some the eyes, and finally some are fatal to men.

Where water in shafts is abundant and very cold, it frequently injures the limbs, for cold is harmful to the sinews.  To meet this, miners should make themselves sufficiently high boots of rawhide, which protect their legs from the cold water....  On the other hand, some mines are so dry that they are entirely devoid of water, and this dryness causes the workmen even greater harm, for the dust which is stirred and beaten up by digging penetrates into the windpipe and lungs, and produces difficulty in breathing....  If the dust has corrosive qualities, it eats away the lungs, and implants consumption in the body....  Therefore, for their digging they should make for themselves not only boots of rawhide, but gloves long enough to reach to the elbow, and they should fasten loose veils over their faces; the dust will then neither be drawn through these into their windpipes and lungs, nor will it fly into their eyes....

Stagnant air, both that which remains in a shaft and that which remains in a tunnel, produces a difficulty in breathing....  There is another illness even more destructive, which soon brings death to men who work in those shafts or levels or tunnels in which the hard rock is broken by fire.  Here the air is infected with poison, since large and small veins and seams in the rocks exhale some subtle poison from the minerals, which is driven out by the fire, and this poison itself is raised with the smoke....  If this poison cannot escape from the ground, but falls down into the pools and floats on their surface, it often causes danger, for if at any time the water is disturbed through a stone or anything else, these fumes rise again from the pools and thus overcome the men, by being drawn in with their breath; this is even much worse if the fumes of the fire have not yet all escaped.  The bodies of living creatures who are infected with this poison generally swell immediately and lose all movement and feeling, and they die without pain; men even in the act of climbing from the shafts by the steps of ladders fall back into the shafts when the poison overtakes them, because their hands do not perform their office, and seem to them to be round and spherical, and likewise their feet.  If by good fortune the injured ones escape these evils, for a little while they are pale and look like dead men.  At such times, no one should descend into the mine or into the neighboring mines, or if he is in them he should come out quickly.  Prudent and skilled miners burn the piles of wood on Friday, towards evening, and they do not descend into the shafts nor enter the tunnels again before Monday, and in the meantime the poisonous fumes pass away....

Further, sometimes workmen slipping from the ladders into the shafts break their arms, legs, or necks, or fall into the sumps and are drowned; often, indeed, the negligence of the foreman is to blame, for it is his special work both to fix the ladders so firmly to the timbers that they cannot break away, that the planks cannot be moved nor the men fall into the water....  Moreover, he must not set the entrance of the shaft-house toward the north wind, lest in winter the ladders freeze with cold, for when this happens the men's hands become stiff and slippery with cold, and cannot perform their office of holding.  The men, too, must be careful that, even if none of these things happen, they do not fall through their own carelessness.

Mountains, too, slide down and men are crushed in their fall and perish....

The venomous ant which exists in Sardinia is not found in our mines....

In some of our mines, however, though in very few, there are other pernicious pests.  These are demons of ferocious aspect.... 

...[T]here are the gentle kind which the Germans as well as the Greeks call cobalos [goblins; from the Greek word kobalos meaning "sprite"], because they mimic men.  They appear to laugh with glee and pretend to do much, but really do nothing. They are called little miners, because of their dwarfish stature, which is about two feet.  They are venerable looking and are clothed like miners in a filleted garment with a leather apron about their loins.  This kind does not often trouble the miners, but they idle about in the shafts and tunnels and really do nothing, although they pretend to be busy in all kinds of labour, sometimes digging ore, and sometimes putting into buckets that which has been dug.  Sometimes they throw pebbles at the workmen, but they rarely injure them unless the workmen first ridicule or curse them.  They are not very dissimilar to Goblins, which occasionally appear to men when they go to or from their day's work, or when they attend their cattle.  Because they generally appear benign to men, the Germans call them guteli [literally, little good or good-natured ones].  Those called trulli [trolls; literally, little wenches], which take the form of women as well as men, actually enter the service of some people, especially the Suions [Swedes].  The mining gnomes are especially active in the workings where metal has already been found, or where there are hopes of discovering it, because of which they do not discourage the miners, but on the contrary stimulate them and cause them to labour more vigourously.

--from Agricola's De Animantibus (1549)

Demons of this kind are expelled and put to flight by prayer and fasting.

The Golem of Prague

Rabbi Judah Loew or Löw (1525-1609)
also called the Maharal:  "Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew"
1525 born in Poland or Germany

The Tombstone of Rabbi Loew

settled in Prague in 1544

became rabbi of the Alteneuschul (Old-New Synagogue)

  • built in 1270 (then called the "new" synagogue)
  • oldest synagogue in Europe
  was a scholar and prolific writer

was an expert on the Cabala ("received tradition")

  • knowledge of the divine world and its connection to the physical world
  • expressed in symbolic language
  • obtained through meditation, dreams, charms
  was a theological and cultural conservative
  • no link between science and theology
  • theological instruction should be limited to those old enough to understand it

is reported to have been invited to the court of Rudolf II, possibly to discuss or give instruction in the Cabala

Rudolf II (1552-1612)
King of Hungary and Bohemia
Holy Roman Emperor

1552 born in Vienna; son of Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II
1563 moved to the Spanish court of his uncle, King Philip II
1572 crowned King of Hungary

crowned King of Bohemia

crowned Holy Roman Emperor


suffered stomach ailment and the beginnings of melancholia

1583 decided to make Prague his permanent residence

The Protestant Reformation was launched by the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther (1483-1546) in 1517, during the reign of Rudolf's great-great-grandfather, Maximilian I.  By the time Rudolf became emperor, the Catholic church had been hard at work for decades trying to stem the rising tide of religious dissent within its ranks.  Although Rudolf showed little interest in the Counter-Reformation beyond reversing his father's policy of tolerance toward Protestants, he continued Maximilian II's policy of economic freedom for Jews in Prague's ghetto.

Rudolf II (1594)
from a portrait by Joseph Heinz (1564-1609)


Rudolf II was by all accounts an eccentric individual.

His fascination with art and natural science led him to patronize:

  • numerous artists
  • Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe
  • German mathematician, Johannes Kepler
  • alchemists -- John Dee, Michael Maier

As an avid collector, he kept:

  • an extensive cabinet of curiosities
  • a menagerie of exotic animals


  • Hebrew word meaning "shapeless mass"
  • in the Talmud it is used to mean "unformed" or "imperfect"

How to animate a golem after shaping its body out of earth:

  • walk around Golem uttering certain letters of the alphabet and the name of God
    (to undo:  walk the opposite way and recite words backwards)
  • write the word for truth -- "emet" -- on the Golem's forehead
    (to undo:  erase the "alef" to change "emet" to "met" -- meaning "death")
  • write the name of God on a piece of parchment and place it in the Golem's mouth or on its arm
    (to undo:  remove the piece of parchment)
Go to:
  • Philosophical Letters between Mr. [John] Ray (1628-1705) and several of his Ingenious Correspondents.... (1718)
Readings for Week
Lecture Notes for