“The secret sciences” was a name for astrology, alchemy, medicine that used amulets and the position of stars, but also for various kinds of magic. This was not always true. The new religions that emerged on the turn of the eras were confronted with paganism in the form of the Roman State religion or popular cults, but also with the thought movement, which was in the form of neo-Platonism and Hermetism an analogy to the new religions. Unlike them, however, it paid more attention to the relation of man and the world rather than man and God. Apart from the influences of the Greek philosophy it also contained information about nature and some elements of oriental magic.
The monotheistic religions understood the legacy of the Classical times as pagan, profane learning that was unnecessary for any Christian, Jew or Muslim. The classical knowledge of nature and mathematics was also counted among the undesirable “secret sciences”. In spite of that, mainly during the ninth century, this knowledge came into the centre of attention of the discoverers of the classical literature. The process of return to the classical knowledge had its high point in the Italian Renaissance.
The understanding of this process was brought only by the studying of the Italian Renaissance in the twentieth century. In the 1920s in Germany a circle of scholars about the library of Aby von Warburg was founded and it worked out a new method of the analysis of works of art, the iconology. Symbols used by fine arts were analysed, including the symbols coming from the sphere of the “secret sciences”. In this way, the “secret sciences” of the Renaissance and their origins became to be studied.
The research was interrupted by the fateful year of 1933. The library of Aby von Warburg was, in the last moment, transported to London, where it became a core of the Warburg Institute of the London University. The work of the German immigrants of the war years (Fritz Saxl, Gertrude Bing) was continued by the English scholars (Frances A. Yates, Daniel P. Walker). They extended the research of the Renaissance “secret sciences” to the time of the Northern Renaissance of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and their function in the beginnings of the exact natural sciences. The search for the relation of the Renaissance thought, including the “secret sciences”, to its origins in the Classical times and its influence in the later periods was undertaken by Italian scholars from the circle around Prof. Eugenio Garin and his disciple, Paola Zambelli. The one who linked Germany, Italy and the group of emigrants in the USA was Paul Oskar Kristeller. The German, English and Italian scholars followed their respective research and they basically reached the same conclusions. In the 1970s the Italian scholars entered in a fruitful cooperation in this field with Polish and Hungarian scholars.