A Brief Review of Immortality in Literature (and Film)

It is perhaps not a surprise that the first epic poem known to humanity deals with the subject of immortality. The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1800 BC) has the eponymous hero, shocked by the premature death of his best friend, Enkidu, travelling in search of eternal life. Gilgamesh seeks out Utnapishtim (‘the Distant’) and his wife, who were the only mortals to ever be granted immortality by the gods. After numerous wanderings, he comes to their abode, but fails in the basic test that Utnapishtim gives him, not to fall asleep for seven nights in a row. Having thus proven his unfitness to be immortal, Utnapishtim sends him home, but gives him a consolation prize – a plant that restores Gilgamesh’s youth. Even this is lost, however, when Gilgamesh goes bathing in a lake; a snake comes and picks it up, shedding its own skin and becoming young again.

Newton and Alchemy II: B.J.T. Dobbs’ “The Hunting of the Greene Lyon” and the Jungian Interpretation of Alchemy

In 1975, the first book-length treatment of Newton and alchemy appeared in print: Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs’ The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy, or “The Hunting of the Greene Lyon” (Cambridge University Press). Dobbs (1930-1994), a historian of science from the Deep American South, certainly deserves more than a dry Wikipedia stub, for her work marked a new era in the study of Newton and alchemy. The Hunting of the Greene Lyon firmly established the topic as a valid field of scholarly inquiry.

Newton and Alchemy I: John Maynard Keynes and the Myth of Newton the Magician

On 13 and 14 July 1936, a huge amount of private papers of Isaac Newton belonging to Viscount Lymington were auctioned at Sotheby’s in London. The auction was not a big success: the entire collection only raised £9,000 (this would be c. £640,000 today according to this calculator).[1] Still, the auction drew the attention of one famous man – the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), who ended up buying many of the papers. There were two main subjects addressed by Newton’s private papers: alchemy and theology. Keynes was mainly interested in the alchemical papers, while a Jewish scholar and collector, Abraham Yahuda, bought most of the theological ones.[2]