Philosophia ad Athenienses

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I. Basic information

Printing History, Manuscripts. First printed in the Köln printing office of the heirs of Arnold Birckmann in 1564. No manuscripts known.

Editions. Edited by Huser, 8 (1590): 1–47. Edited by Sudhoff in Paracelsus, Sämtliche Werke, I/13: 387–423.

Relationship between different versions. Only one known version.

Structure, genre/form, perspective, style. The text consists of three “books,” the last one incomplete, containing respectively 24, 23 and only 6 chapters (called “Texts”). Each book has a preface and a conclusion summarizing its contents, except the unfinished third book, with no conclusion. The prefaces and conclusions describe what the “Fürst Theophrastus” (Prince Theophrastus) has explained, which implies that they are the work of an editor, not the author himself, although their summaries do not always match the actual content of the work and mention topics not discussed in the text.

 In the preface to book 1, the whole work is introduced as “the second Paras [sic], containing three books, of the first volume of the philosophy of Paracelsus,” as if a first “Paras” (i.e. another work) should have preceded the Philosophia ad Athenienses. However, “the word ‘Paras’ is used in all other conclusions and prefaces of the work as if the ‘ander Paras’ referred only to the first book of the Philosophia ad Athenienses, instead of to the whole work.” Thus the second book is introduced as “dritt Paras,” and the third book as “vierdt Paras,” leading the reader to conclude that the very first book of the Philosophia ad Athenienses is missing. But the publisher of the volume “had understood it differently, for he chose ‘Das erst Buch,’ ‘Das ander Buch,’ and ‘Das dritt Buch’ as running titles, which is consistent with the preface to the first book.”

Relationship to other texts. The text has close similarities with the Philosophia de generationibus et fructibus quatuor elementorum and mentions a number of elemental beings, which implies a knowledge of the Liber de nymphis. Other authentic texts possibly known to the author may be De meteoris, the Archidoxis, and the section De ente astrorum in the Volumen medicinae Paramirum. Knowledge of any of these texts imply that the author had access to the manuscripts of Paracelsus.

Authenticity, authorship. According to Gilly the early editors had not the least doubt about the authenticity of the Philosophia ad Athenienses and the anti-Paracelsians recognised it at once as the embodiment of Paracelsus’s heresies. As “the most accurate account of Paracelsus’s gnostic views” (Carlos Gilly) it was central to Walter Pagel, who did rarely differentiate between authentic and non-authentic writings of Paracelsus. Sudhoff doubted its authenticity – a “rather suspicious writing” –, but he saw the possibility of an authentic core: “it will be difficult to estimate how far it is a revision of a fragmentary work – if at all we can assume an authentic core”. Kahn rejects its authenticity “both in style and content:” “the unknown author wrote this text and ascribed it to Paracelsus in order to produce a more Platonist Paracelsian cosmology than that of the genuine treatises of Paracelsus, which apparently disappointed the unknown author in this regard.”

Time of writing. Probably written in the late 1550s or early 1560s.

II. Sources

Manuscripts: no manuscripts known

First printed:

  • 1564 (Des Hocherfarnen vnd Hochgelehrten Herrn Theophrasti Paracelsi von Hohenheim […] Philosophiae ad Athenienses drey Bücher (Köln: Arnold Birckmanns Erben, 1564); VD16 P 528; Sudhoff, Bibliographia Paracelsica, 101–104 n° 65)

Historical Manuscript Catalogues: Catalogus Osek (Prague) 1, n° 3

III. Bibliography

Essential bibliography: Sudhoff, Bibliographia Paracelsica, 102–103, 399; Sudhoff, “Vorwort,” in Paracelsus, Sämtliche Werke, I/13: XI–XIII; CP 2: 17, 236–237, 898–899.

Further bibliographical references:

Josef Strebel, “Zur Echtheitsfrage der paracelsischen Geheimphilosophie (Ph. Occulta) und die Philosophia ad Athenienses,” Nova Acta Paracelsica, 4 (1947), 48–54 [questionable].

Peuckert, Pansophie (1956), 218, 454.

Carlos Gilly, “Iter gnostico-russicum,” in 500 лет гнозиса в Европе. гностическая традиция в печатных и рукописных книгах (Amsterdam, 1993), 54–58, 114 n° 19a.

Gilly, Paracelsus in der BPH (1993), 36.

Gilly, “Theophrastia Sancta” (1994), 436.

Gilly, “Theophrastia Sancta” (1998), 156, 158.

Gilly, “Das Bekenntnis zur Gnosis” (2000), 392–393, 395–396, 404, 408, 416.

Gilly, “Vom ägyptischen Hermes zum Trismegistus Germanus” (2010), 77–78, 104.

Katharina Dück, “Transformationen des paracelsischen ‘Prima-Materia’-Begriffs in der ‘Philosophia ad Athenienses’”, Sprachreport, 25 (2009), n° 3, 12–16.

Ute Frietsch, Häresie und Wissenschaft. Eine Genealogie der paracelsischen Alchemie (Paderborn, 2013), 346–355.

Didier Kahn, “The Philosophia ad Athenienses in the Light of Genuine Paracelsian Cosmology,” Early Science and Medicine, 24 (2019), 439–472.

Katharina Dück, Materia prima. Zur Semantik des Begriffs in naturkundlichen Sachschriften des 16. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden, 2020), 149–153.

Didier Kahn, “La Création ex nihilo et la notion d’increatum chez Paracelse”, in Edouard Mehl and Isabelle Pantin, eds., “De mundi recentioribus phænomenis.” Cosmologie et science dans l’Europe des Temps modernes, XVe–XVIIe siècles. Essais en l’honneur de Miguel Ángel Granada (Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming).