John Dee and the 'Sidney Group' : cosmopolitics and Protestant 'activism' in the 1570s
The life and thought of John Dee (1527-1608) have in recent years received considerable attention from historians. His nineteenth-century reputation as a deluded (and deluding) crank has been dispelled and he is seen now as the proponent of an immensely complex system of philosophy which made important contributions to the development of mathematics, astronomy, architecture, navigation and applied science. Many claims have been made for the profundity of the influence exerted by Dee and his ideas, both in his own lifetime and after his death, and a great effort has been made to define his 'world picture' by reference to such formulae as 'Neoplatonism', 'Hermeticism', and 'Rosicrucianism', but while these are valid and significant in all sorts of ways, there has been no clear apprehension of the main focus of his system. The predominant impression of Dee is of an enormously erudite, but intellectually insular man, pursuing a tremendously diffuse range of studies which, while they have important implications for the history of science and ideas, do not appear to be organised into a consistent, internally - coherent system, directly relevant to the contemporary world. It is such an incorrect picture of Dee that I wish to rectify.