DEE, John

(1527-1608)
John Dee, both feared and respected in Elizabethan England, was a teacher-philosopher whose range of studies encompassed mathematics, philosophy, and geography in both the natural and celestial worlds. Influenced by Platonic and Hermetic philosophies, Dee was imprisoned by Mary I,* admired by Elizabeth I,* and scorned by James I.*
Born on 13 July 1527, Dee studied and taught mathematical concepts, em­phasizing their ability to move freely between the physical and immaterial worlds. Imprisoned under Queen Mary in June 1555, Dee was accused of "lewde vayne practices of calculing and conjuring." By 1558, however, he gained the reputation of a learned scientific teacher and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Intrigued by Dee's claims to alchemy, the ability to turn base metal into gold, the queen appointed Dee court astrologer. He divined the best date for her coronation, advised on navigational matters, and was approached to revise the Julian calendar. Dee's lectures and teachings were sought by the curious in England for twenty-five years.
By 1570 Dee had established a home at Mortlake that drew distinguished visitors, students, and guests until late 1583. At that point Dee embarked upon a failed trip abroad, and he returned to Mortlake by 1589. There he found his home ransacked and his library severely damaged. Through Queen Elizabeth's favor, Dee became warden of Manchester College in 1595. With the accession of King James, however, Dee quickly fell from royal favor.
Dee's suggestions to Queen Mary, such as the institution of a royal library, were not wasted on Queen Elizabeth. She and members of her court frequented Dee's abode at Mortlake, and he became a valued advisor. His Mathematical Preface to Euclid as well as his geographical studies on newly found lands were indispensable in the Elizabethan era.
The humanist education emphasized during the Reformation ran counter to Dee's desire for his studies to have practical application. Mathematics was con­sidered a diabolical study in Dee's day by some, and he sought to prove its theories useful and relevant in the natural world. This focus upon application of knowledge led to the development of the scientific method and ultimately gave birth to technology.
Whispers of black magic plagued Dee during and after his lifetime. These tales apparently surfaced after a stage performance of Aristophanes in which Dee's use of stage mechanics was too realistic. Dee was considered a magician-philosopher, and his ambiguous reputation still persists today. In a diary called Liber Mysteriorum, Dee's seances at Mortlake with a man first called Mr. Talbot and later Edward Kelly are recorded. Kelly, claiming to be a seer or skryer, interpreted celestial images seen in a mirrored glass for Dee. Reports of angels and these divinations through seance brought the two and their wives to the unsuccessful 1583 trip abroad.
The old traditions that Dee studied at Mortlake were taught not only to Queen Elizabeth but to many of the most influential people in England at the time. While common folk in England doubted and feared Dee and his sorcery, his quest for and application of once-feared topics like alchemy and mathematics brought abstract investigation out of the shadows and into the royal spotlight. His applications of machination and navigation have helped, to an immeasurable degree, to bring Western culture to the stage of technical development that it enjoys today.
Bibliography
P. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus, 1972.
W. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics ofReading and Writing in the Renaissance, 1995.
Karolyn Kinane

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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  • Dee, John — ▪ English mathematician born July 13, 1527, London, England died December 1608, Mortlake, Surrey       English mathematician, natural philosopher, and student of the occult.       Dee entered St. John s College (Saint John s College), Cambridge… …   Universalium

  • Dee, John — (1527 1608)    English natural philosopher, alchemist, astrologer, and mathematician, famous for his learning in scientific and occult subjects, but also suspected as a person whose occult interests might involve contact with evil spirits. These… …   Historical Dictionary of Renaissance

  • DEE, JOHN —    an alchemist, born in London; a man of curious learning; earned the reputation of being a sorcerer; was imprisoned at one time, and mobbed at another, under this imputation; died in poverty; left 79 works, the majority of which were never… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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