Dorn, Gerard

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Dorn, Gerard

(b. Belgium [?]; fl. Basel, Switzerland, and Frankfurt, Germany, 1566–1584)

medicine, alchemy, chemistry.

As an early follower of Paracelsus, Dorn contributed significantly, through his translations and commentaries and through his own writings, to the rapid dissemination of Paracelsian doctrines in the late sixteenth century, and his influence has been revived in the twentieth century through its importance to C. G. Jung’s studies of alchemy. Yet little appears to be known of his life. His contemporary Michael Toxites referred to him as Belgian (Belga).1 He was a student of the Paracelsist Adam of Bodenstein, to whom he dedicated his first book,2 but where he received his doctorate remains unclear. For several years he appears to have worked, perhaps on commission, as a translator for the Basel publisher Peter Perna. The dedications of his books indicate that he was still living in Basel in 1577–1578, but by 1581–1584 he apparently had taken up residence in Frankfurt.

Dora’s translations of Paracelsus include works on chemistry, astronomy, astrology, and surgery as well as on therapeutics and pharmacology. His dictionary of Paracelsian terms was influential not only in its Latin editions but also in later Dutch (1614), German (1618), and English translations (1650, 1674). Like Paracelsus he directed attention to the utility of chemistry in medicine, and he defended Paracelsus’ new medicine against the attacks of the traditionalist Thomas Erastus. But it was Paracelsus’ attempt to build a cosmic philosophy from an amalgamation of hermetic Neoplatonism and chemistry that attracted Dorn most strongly. His objective was not to transmute baser metals into gold, but to change manifest into occult forms, the impure into the pure. Believing that the education of his time was too pagan and scholastic, he presented the operations of alchemy not only as a material procedure but also as a spiritual process of striving toward “sublimity of mind.”3 “Transform yourselves into living philosophical stones,” he exhorted.4

Dorn was also indebted to John of Rupescissa on the quintessence and to Nicholas of Cusa in his application of numerical symbols5 to Paracelsian principles. He felt an affinity for the English mathematician and astrologer John Dee, whose symbol of unity (monas) he incorporated into the title-page vignette of his Chymisticum artificium.6 His elaborations of Paracelsian concepts and his own meditations, as reprinted in the Theatrum chemicum,7 came to have a special meaning for C. G. Jung, whose later works are based on profound and lengthy researches into philosophical alchemy. Jung’s summation of the significance of alchemical symbolism for psychology and religion was notably influenced by Dorn’s concept of a unitary world (unus mundus) and, like Dorn, he drew a parallel between the alchemical act and the moralintellectual transformation of man. With this interpretation he placed alchemy in a new perspective in the history of science, medicine, and theology.


1. Paracelsus, Onomastica II, Michael Toxites, ed. (Strasbourg, 1574), p. 430.

2.Clavis totius philosophiae chymisticae (Lyons, 1567), dedication dated Basel, 1566.

3.Ibid., p. 126.

4. Cited by C. G. Jung, in Psychology and Alchemy 2nd ed. (Princeton, 1968), p. 148.

5.Clavis, chs. 7–9; Monarchia triadis in unitate soli deo sacra, appended to Aurora thesaurusque philosophorum Paracelsi (Basel, 1577). pp. 65–127; and his “De spagirico artificio Io. Trithemi sententia,” in Theatrum chemicum, I (Strasbourg, 1659), 390–391.

6.Chymisticum artificium naturae theoricum et practicum (n.p., 1568).

7.Theatrum chemicum, I, 192–591.


I. Original Works. Bibliographies (listed chronologically) of Dorn’s writings are given by K. Sudhoff, “Ein Beitrag zur Bibliographie der Paracelsisten im 16. Jahrhundert,” in Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen, 10 (1893), 385–391; J. Ferguson, Bibliotheca chemica (Glasgow, 1906), I, 220–222; D. Duveen, Bibliotheca alchemica et chemica (London, 1949; repr. London, 1965), 177–179; and J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (London, 1961), II, 159–160. The De summis naturae mysteriis and the Aurora thesaurusque philosophorum, presented by Dorn as translations of Paracelsian writings, are considered by Sudhoff to be Dorn’s own works: Versuch einer Kritik der Echtheit der Paracelsischen Schriften (Berlin, 1894), nos. 125, 177. A. E. Waite’s translation of the Aurora in The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus (London, 1894; repr. New Hyde Park, N.Y., 1967) does not include, as might be inferred from Partington, either the tract Monarchia triadis in unitate soli deo sacra (alternate title of the Monarchia physica), which was issued with the Aurora (Basel, 1577), pp. 65–127, or the Anatomia viva, also issued with Aurora, 129–191, on the chemical examination of urine by distillation, which also was probably Dorn’s own work and was ascribed to him by Huser in his German translations of the Aurora of 1605 and 1618—see Sudhoff, op. cit., nos. 267, 302; see also no. 469. W. Pagel has suggested that, under the name Dominicus Gnosicus Belga, Dorn was the author of a commentary, first printed in 1566, to the Seven Hermetic Treatises: “Paracelsus: Traditionalism and Medieval Sources,” in L. G. Stevenson, ed., Medicine, Science and Culture; Historical Essays in Honor of Owsei Temkin (Baltimore, 1968), pp. 58–60; and “The Eightness of Adam and Related ‘Gnostic’ Ideas in the Paracelsan Corpus,” in Ambix, 16 (1969), 131–132.

II. Secondary Literature. The fullest accounts of Dorn are given by J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (London, 1961), II, 159–160; L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, V (New York, 1941; repr. New York, 1954), 630–635; and R. P. Multhauf, The Origins of Chemistry (London, 1966), 241–243, 288–289. Other references are in W. Pagel, Paracelsus; An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel, 1958), pp. 189–194; and Das medizinische Weltbild des Paracelsus (Wiesbaden, 1962), p. 111. The works of C. G. Jung in which Dorn is most frequently cited are vols. XII, XIII, and XIV of his Collected Works: Psychology and Alchemy, 2nd ed. (Princeton, 1968); Alchemical Studies (Princeton, 1967); and Mysterium coniunctionis (New York, 1963). Further references relevant to Dorn’s alchemical philosophy and to his influence on Jung are M.-L. von Franz, “The Idea of the Macro- and Microcosmos in the Light of Jungian Psychology,” in Ambix, 13 (1965), 22–34; G. H., review of T. Burckhardt’s Alchimie: Sinn und Weltbilt, ibid., 8 (1960), 177–180; A. Jaffé, “The Influence of Alchemy on the Work of C. G. Jung,” in Alchemy and the Occult. A Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts From the Collection of Paul and Mary Mellon Given to Yale University Library, compiled by Ian MacPhail (New Haven, 1968), I, xxi, xxii, xxix; II, 394; W. Pagel, “Jung’s Views on Alchemy,” in Isis, 39 (1948), 44–48; and his review of I. B. Cohen’s Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Discoverer of the True Subject of the Hermetic Art, ibid., 43 (1952), 374–375; H. J. Sheppard, “A Survey of Alchemical and Hermetic Symbolism,” in Ambix, 8 (1960), 35–41; and R. S. Wilkinson, “The Alchemical Library of John Winthrop, Jr. (1606–1676),” ibid., 9 (1963), 33–51; 10 (1966), 139–186.

Five of Dorn’s works were in Winthrop’s library; the copy that belonged to John Dee bears his initials and the comment in his hand that Dorn used his monas without permission. The existence of one of the world’s most substantial alchemical libraries in seventeenth-century New England adds another dimension to the Puritan mind.

Martha Teach Gnudi