In 1618, on the eve of the Thirty Years’ War, the German alchemist and physician Michael Maier published Atalanta fugiens, an intriguing and complex musical alchemical emblem book designed to engage the ear, eye, and intellect. The book unfolds as a series of fifty emblems, each of which contains a motto, a copperplate etching, an epigram in German and Latin, and an accompanying “fugue” — music scored for three voices. Each emblem/fugue set is followed by a Latin discourse in which Maier points to particular works from the alchemical corpus, providing bibliographic clues for the reader to use in unlocking the emblem’s hidden meaning. Historians of alchemy have long understood this virtuoso work as an ambitious demonstration of the art’s literary potential, an experiment with genre and the possibilities of the early modern printed book. More recently, scholars have noted that Maier’s emblems also encode actual laboratory materials and technologies, inviting us to revisit the book not only as a display of erudition and a paean to the philosophers’ stone but also as a puzzle, a tool that can be used to generate endless new insights into nature’s secrets.

Atalanta fugiens lends itself unusually well to experimentation with digital tools and technologies available today. Re-rendering Maier’s multimedia alchemical project as an enhanced online publication, Furnace and Fugue allows contemporary readers to hear, see, manipulate, and investigate Atalanta fugiens in ways that were perhaps imagined when it was created yet impossible to fully realize before now. An interactive, layered digital edition provides accessibility and flexibility to readers, presenting all the elements of the original book along with significant enhancements that allow for deep engagement by specialists and nonspecialists alike: a fully searchable English translation sourced from a seventeenth-century manuscript housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University; high resolution, zoomable images; newly commissioned, manipulable vocal recordings of the book’s music; a downloadable performance edition featuring modernized musical notation; and a multifunctional space that allows users to curate, save, and share their own selection and arrangement of Maier’s emblems. Furnace and Fugue makes possible the playful capabilities implied by Atalanta fugiens while also enabling and encouraging new interpretations of this early modern emblem book. Three short introductory essays invite readers to get acquainted with early modern alchemy, contemporary printing methods, and Michael Maier himself. Eight extended interpretive essays explore Atalanta fugiens and its place in the history of music, science, print, and visual culture in early modern Europe. These interdisciplinary essays include interactive features that clarify or advance the authors’ arguments while positioning Furnace and Fugue as an original, uniquely engaging contribution to our understanding of early modern culture.

The impetus for reimagining Atalanta fugiens as a dynamic, multimodal publication came from two multidisciplinary, collaborative workshops that took an experimental approach to deciphering the book. The first was held in March 2015 at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (renamed the Science History Institute in 2018) in Philadelphia. This workshop brought together rare books curators as well as experts in history, music, mathematics, and digital humanities to puzzle out — and perform — Maier’s book. The new ideas, debates, and general excitement that emerged from this interactive engagement with Maier’s text became the springboard for Furnace and Fugue. In the two extraordinary days that followed, fugues were sung on demand and Latin epigrams recited. One participant created playing cards of the emblems to experiment with the formation of different kinds of pairings; another held an impromptu Rare Books School session to explain the physical aspects of Maier’s book; and the workshop culminated with a truly magical moment, when participants gathered around four copies of Maier’s book on loan from neighboring institutions and sang music from Atalanta fugiens guided by the singers in the Othmer Library. A second workshop at Brown University followed, held in February 2016. About forty international scholars, students, and musicians, snowbound on the Brown campus, gathered to discuss and demonstrate some of the ways in which innovative digital engagement with Atalanta fugiens might open up Maier’s world to a contemporary readership.

Furnace and Fugue was developed under the auspices of Brown University’s Digital Publications Initiative, generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional support was provided by a Humanities Grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, as well as a Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award and a Seed/Bridge Grant from the Social Science Research Institute at Brown University.

Editorial Practices

Bibliophiles and scholars familiar with Atalana fugiens will know there are two publication dates associated with this work: 1617 and 1618. These are not in fact separate editions, but two “states.” James R. Voelkel, curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Othmer Library of Chemical History, has determined that these two states come from the same setting of type. There are two distinguishing features between the states: the date on the title page of the 1618 state is differentiated from its 1617 counterpart by an extra Roman numeral “I”; and only certain copies of the 1618 state have the portrait of Michael Maier on page 11. No copies of the 1617 state have Maier's portrait, nor do all extant 1618 copies contain Maier’s image (this leads Voelkel to surmise that this particular plate was late in reaching the printer). Based on this, the editors of Furnace and Fugue understand the 1617 and 1618 copies to be virtually identical states rather than separate editions. Two factors underpin the editors’ decision to use the date 1618: there appear to be more numerous extant copies of the 1618 state, and the inclusion of Maier’s portrait also appears to have completed the book.

Furnace and Fugue makes use of a seventeenth-century English translation of Michael Maier’s Latin text in Atalanta fugiens. This translation, entitled “Atalanta running, that is, new chymicall emblems relating to the secrets of nature,” is held in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University (Mellon MS 48). Furnace and Fugue contains a diplomatic transcription that retains all original spelling and grammatical features of the Beinecke manuscript as well as a normalized transcription that lightly modernizes the spelling into current American usage. Both are generated from a single transcription encoded using TEI conventions. The following descriptions outline the editorial practices used throughout the digital edition.

Orthography in the English Translation

Orthography (original spelling and capitalization) and anacolutha (idiosyncratic sentence structure and punctuation) used by the Beinecke manuscript author in both the diplomatic and normalized versions have been retained, with exceptions being the use of u and j: words like loue, haue, and jron have been silently altered to love, have, and iron in the normalized transcription. Other cases of emendation in the normalized transcription include: deletion of extra letters (such as e, t, and n — hence seeke, hott, and runne in the diplomatic text are modernized to seek, hot, and run); the modernization of spelling where necessary (e.g. inclosed becomes enclosed); and the expansion of contractions (i'th becomes in the, and coḿon is modernized to common).

The diplomatic transcription retains diphthongs (specifically, the compound vowels æ and œ, e.g. Præface and fœtus); however, the normalized version either presents a modernization of the word itself (Preface) or separates the ligature (foetus). In the case of cœlum and cœlestial, the Beinecke author follows Maier’s Latin spelling, but the words are rendered as coelum and celestial in the normalized text.

Authorial Insertions in the English Translation

Where the Beinecke author has struck out or replaced sentences or words in both the diplomatic and the normalized edition, deletions have been silently omitted. Additions are indicated with <angle brackets> in the diplomatic text and are silently emended in the normalized version. Some curious features of the manuscript merit attention. The Beinecke author has added nonsequential numbers in superscript to certain passages within “Atalanta running.” This numbering system in the diplomatic text has been retained, and the sentence in the normalized version has simply been reordered. Also, the Beinecke manuscript features two sections where paper flaps have been pasted onto the page: one flap is affixed to the title page and another on page 103, at the end of Discourse 32, which appears to be the first four lines of an “alphabetarium.” This flap is clipped in such a manner that some lines are truncated, and there is no text underneath this paper addition:

Avoid all disputes as much as poss
Beware of all unruly passions
Crave the divine protection
Demonstrate your care by improvem.

Furthermore, the Beinecke manuscript was written by a single copyist in secretary and italic hands; however, this manuscript also bears penciled marginal notes and underlined text that are likely twentieth-century additions — these pencil annotations have been included where they appear as marginal notes, but not the underlined text, and this later hand is not distinguished from the Beinecke manuscript author’s in either the diplomatic or normalized transcriptions in the digital edition.

The Beinecke manuscript is a fascinating document in its own right and merits further research; however, the objective of Furnace and Fugue is not to provide a study of the Beinecke manuscript itself but rather to provide a reliable English translation of Maier’s Latin text. Curious readers of Furnace and Fugue are encouraged to view this document online at

Latin and German Text

The Latin and German text transcribed from Maier’s 1618 volume is also available in diplomatic and normalized versions in the digital edition. The diplomatic version retains all brevigraphs (et, per, pro, quod, qui) and abbreviations and indicates the few typographic errors. The use of “j” and “v” is retained as printed in the text and not regularized. Long s is silently transcribed as s. The normalized version expands brevigraphs and abbreviations and silently corrects any mistakes. The German mottos and epigrams are only displayed in a diplomatic version and retain the original spelling.

Technical Specifications

The Furnace and Fugue web presence has been created using static page generators. All interactivity is handled on the client side using JavaScript and no server-side support is necessary after the site has been generated.

The digital edition of Atalanta fugiens is compiled from transcriptions of the original book, a copy of which is held in the John Hay Library at Brown University, and a seventeenth-century English translation held at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Both texts are encoded in XML using the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) schema. Detailed notes documenting the encoding conventions are included in the XML files available on the GitHub text repository. The encoded texts capture more features than were able to be displayed in the digital edition and are available for re-use. The digital edition of Atalanta fugiens is converted from XML source files to HTML with the in-house, custom-coded site generator system Furnace, which is written in Python and uses XSL as its template language. The scholarly essays were built with the static site generator Hugo.

The music notation was created with Sibelius and exported to MEI (Music Encoding Initiative), an XML schema for representing the physical and intellectual characteristics of musical documents, using the Sibelius-to-MEI plugin. Because MEI is a format that is easily manipulated, it was possible to use the Verovio music notation engraving library to generate a web-ready vector notation in SVG and to extract the timing information needed to align audio with the interactive music display.

Indexing and display are handled by JavaScript libraries. Search functionality is provided by the Lunr.js library with custom-built functionality to provide the context of search hits in the search result view. The faceted image search functionality was also built in-house. The digital edition uses OpenSeadragon for the zooming image viewer and MagickSlicer to create the image tiles. Additional animated effects and transitions in the digital edition, faceted image search, navigation menus, and interactive map use the GreenSock Animation API (GSAP), the GSAP ScrollToPlugin, ScrollMagic, and Tumult Hype Pro and the Waypoints JavaScript library, respectively. Detailed documentation on implementation can be found on the GitHub code repository.


It took many people to create Atalanta fugiens, from its named author Michael Maier, to the printers, funders, and artisans who produced books for the De Bry publishing firm, to the unacknowledged sources of Maier’s ideas, images, and music. Although Tara Nummedal and Donna Bilak’s names appear as coeditors, Furnace and Fugue also required many hands and minds to bring it to fruition, and they wish to acknowledge that community here.

The project emerged out of Donna Bilak’s postdoctoral research, which provided momentum for re-imagining Atalanta fugiens as a born-digital publication in two multidisciplinary, collaborative, and experimental workshops. The participants of the first workshop, held in March 2015 at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, were crucial to informing our understanding of the performative aspects of Atalanta fugiens. Special thanks to “Team Atalanta” — Robin Bier and Graham Bier, Eric Bianchi, Ronald Brashear, Brian D. Hadley, Peter Forshaw, Giuseppe Gerbino, Mary E. Larew, Loren Ludwig, Molly Netter, Ridge Montes, Lawrence M. Principe, Jennifer M. Rampling, Pamela H. Smith, Stephen Tabor, James R. Voelkel, and Lee Zickel. Workshop conversation was further enriched by the participation of Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Stefano Gattei, Ben Gross, Lynne Farrington, Juan Andreas Leon, Esther Ritman, and Julia Stone, with loans of Atalanta fugiens copies from the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the University of Delaware Library, and the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University. Nummedal and Bilak are indebted to Ronald Brashear, whose auspices as the Othmer Library Director brought this first workshop into being, as the new ideas, debates, and general excitement that emerged from this interactive engagement with Maier’s text became the springboard for Furnace and Fugue.

A second experimental workshop took place at Brown University in February 2016 to advance the conversation. This workshop was made possible through the generous support of Brown University’s Humanities Teaching and Research Fund, Program in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, History Department, and University Library. The lead authors of Furnace and Fugue particularly wish to thank Evelyn Lincoln for co-organizing the event; Les Canards Chantants, directed by Robin Bier and Graham Bier, and Ridge Montes for bringing the book to life with an enchanting performance-lecture that weekend; as well as Rachel Berwick, Adam Borrego, Harold Cook, Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Elina Hamilton, Nori Jacoby, Gigi Michael, Iris Montero, Emily Monty, Vivian Morgowicz, Jeremy Mumford, the late Janice Neri, Jacob Perry, Jocelyne Prince, Michael Putnam, Alisha Rankin, Carmel Raz, Neil Safier, William Sherman, Pamela Smith, Andrew Sparling, Beatrice Steiner, Alex Vidmar, and Lee Zickel for their deep and various expertise, open minds, collaborative spirit, and critical questions at such a crucial stage.

The lead authors have shared ongoing research on Furnace and Fugue and Atalanta fugiens over the past few years, and have benefited enormously from the engagement of audiences at the Bard Graduate Center, Boston College, Charles University (Prague), Columbia University, European University Institute (Florence), the University of Cambridge, and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Bilak’s research into Atalanta fugiens first received support in 2013 from the Huntington Library as a Dibner Research Fellow in the History of Science and Technology, and her magic square idea took shape as the 2013–14 Sidney M. Edelstein Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. The essay ultimately came together at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America as an Associate Research Scholar in 2017–18, and Bilak is especially indebted to Ann-Sophie Barwich and Eric Bianchi for their incisive critiques of final drafts. Nummedal developed her essay in this publication in 2017 while in residence as a Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin), Department II, where her colleagues pushed her to think more deeply about music, the history of the book, and the history of the senses in connection with the history of science.

Nummedal and Bilak are sincerely grateful to former Brown University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi and Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin for their early faith in and support for Furnace and Fugue; to Joukowsky Family University Librarian Joseph Meisel for recognizing its potential and helping to see it through to completion; to the entire team at Brown, especially Adam Bradley, Crystal Brusch, Elli Mylonas, Patrick Rashleigh, Ben Tyler, and Dashiell Wasserman; and to Studio Rainwater and Jake and Company, not only for their expertise and experience but also for developing Furnace and Fugue with them (not for them). The lead authors owe a special thanks to Loren Ludwig, who not only authored one of the essays but also so expertly coordinated the music recordings that are at the heart of Furnace and Fugue. Most of all, they are deeply indebted to Digital Scholarship Editor Allison Levy, who brought her own expertise in publication and early modern Europe to the project and whose steady hand kept Furnace and Fugue, with all of its collaborators and moving parts, on track.

We wish to extend our appreciation to the University of Virginia Press. Special thanks to Eric Brandt, Richard K. Holoway, H. C. Erik Midelfort, Suzanne Moomaw, the late Mark Saunders, David Sewell, and Nadine Zimmerli, who were enthusiastic about publishing this unique and innovative project. Additional thanks go to the production and marketing teams, especially Jason Coleman, Emma Donovan, Emily Grandstaff, and Morgan Myers.

Furnace and Fugue not only presents an important model for scholarly collaborations that cross disciplines, it also reflects professional diversity within the academy. Such work shows how a postdoc and a tenured professor, working at different institutions, could combine access to scholarly communities and funding to create a rich, multidisciplinary project that would not have been possible if undertaken individually. Still, Nummedal and Bilak each have their own personal acknowledgments in addition to these collective ones.

Tara Nummedal wishes to thank Donna Bilak, above all, for rekindling her interest in Michael Maier and Atalanta fugiens, for being the creative force behind this project from the outset, and for making a community out of a seventeenth-century book. Nummedal would also like to acknowledge the late Janice Neri, who taught her so much about the role of images in constituting knowledge, both with her own scholarship and in the 2016 workshop at Brown. Special thanks to Seth Rockman and Mila Rockedal for their willingness to open the family home to scholars and musicians. Finally, Nummedal wishes to thank her undergraduate and graduate students at Brown. Their intellectual curiosity, interdisciplinary inclinations, talent, and creativity truly are an inspiration, and she hopes they continue to puzzle through ideas in whatever they go on to do.

Finally, Donna Bilak wishes to extend personal and sincere thanks to the scholars and performers whose expertise, insights, and imagination opened her up to amazing new facets of Atalantaland: Robin and Graham Bier, Anna Conser, Brian Hadley, Loren Ludwig, Ridge Montes, Zea Morvitz, and Anthony Parenti. Special thanks go to Bilak’s collaborator, Tara Nummedal, for taking a chance with her — and to Ron Brashear, in many ways the godfather of Furnace and Fugue, for ensuring this project had a chance to come into being.


Editors: Tara Nummedal and Donna Bilak

Digital scholarship editor: Allison Levy
Editorial assistance: Dashiell Wasserman, Rebecca Krasner, Fiona Sappenfield, Amanda Arceneaux

Design: Crystal Brusch, Studio Rainwater
Design and production assistance: Ben Tyler

Development: Adam Bradley, Jean Rainwater, Birkin Diana, Jake and Company

Text transcription and encoding: Elli Mylonas, Scott DiGiulio, George Elliott

Interactive music UX design, development, and editing: Patrick Rashleigh

Music modernization and transcription: Robin Bier and Graham Bier

Audio recording: Loren Ludwig
Singers: Michael Barrett, Luthien Brackett, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, Fred Jodry, Donald Meinecke, Charlotte Mundy, Molly Quinn, Elisa Sutherland, James Taylor, Zoe Weiss, Jonathan Woody

Digital photography and videography: Lindsay Elgin and Shashi Mishra

Additional thanks: Brian Croxall, Liz Glass

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and, at Brown University, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Social Science Research Institute.

Published by the University of Virginia Press
Studies in Early Modern German History
H. C. Erik Midelfort, Series Editor