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With the masked, shape-changing American alchemist , it is impossible to know too much for sure. A few days later Leonardo sent him for a rare mathematical book to the house of the alchemist , Sacrobosco.
No, nor nobody ever did, or ever will, till we can see an alchemist grow rich. The alchemist constructed his ordered scheme of nature on the basis of the supposed universality of life.
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Login or Register. Most readers probably are aware of several common claims about alchemy—for example, These ideas about alchemy emerged during the eighteenth century or after.
While each of them might have limited validity within a narrow context, none of them is an accurate depiction of alchemy in general.
The word alchemy comes from Old French alquemie , alkimie , used in Medieval Latin as alchymia. Several etymologies have been proposed for the Greek term.
The first was proposed by Zosimos of Panopolis 3rd—4th centuries , who derived it from the name of a book, the Khemeu. The ancient Egyptian word referred to both the country and the colour "black" Egypt was the "Black Land", by contrast with the "Red Land", the surrounding desert ; so this etymology could also explain the nickname "Egyptian black arts".
Alchemy encompasses several philosophical traditions spanning some four millennia and three continents. These traditions' general penchant for cryptic and symbolic language makes it hard to trace their mutual influences and "genetic" relationships.
One can distinguish at least three major strands, which appear to be mostly independent, at least in their earlier stages: Chinese alchemy , centered in China and Indian alchemy , centered on the Indian subcontinent ; and Western alchemy, which occurred around the Mediterranean and whose center has shifted over the millennia from Greco-Roman Egypt to the Islamic world , and finally medieval Europe.
Chinese alchemy was closely connected to Taoism and Indian alchemy with the Dharmic faiths. In contrast, Western alchemy developed its philosophical system mostly independent of but influenced by various Western religions.
It is still an open question whether these three strands share a common origin, or to what extent they influenced each other. The start of Western alchemy may generally be traced to ancient and Hellenistic Egypt , where the city of Alexandria was a center of alchemical knowledge, and retained its pre-eminence through most of the Greek and Roman periods.
The treatises of Zosimos of Panopolis , the earliest historically attested author fl. Zosimus based his work on that of older alchemical authors, such as Mary the Jewess ,  Pseudo-Democritus ,  and Agathodaimon , but very little is known about any of these authors.
Recent scholarship tend to emphasizes the testimony of Zosimus, who traced the alchemical arts back to Egyptian metallurgical and ceremonial practices.
While critical of the kind alchemy he associated with the Egyptian priests and their followers, Zosimos nonetheless saw the tradition's recent past as rooted in the rites of the Egyptian temples.
Mythology — Zosimos of Panopolis asserted that alchemy dated back to Pharaonic Egypt where it was the domain of the priestly class, though there is little to no evidence for his assertion.
His name is derived from the god Thoth and his Greek counterpart Hermes. Hermes and his caduceus or serpent-staff, were among alchemy's principal symbols.
According to Clement of Alexandria , he wrote what were called the "forty-two books of Hermes", covering all fields of knowledge. These writings were collected in the first centuries of the common era.
Few original Egyptian documents on alchemy have survived, most notable among them the Stockholm papyrus and the Leyden papyrus X. Philosophy — Alexandria acted as a melting pot for philosophies of Pythagoreanism , Platonism , Stoicism and Gnosticism which formed the origin of alchemy's character.
According to Aristotle, each element had a sphere to which it belonged and to which it would return if left undisturbed.
True alchemy never regarded earth, air, water, and fire as corporeal or chemical substances in the present-day sense of the word. The four elements are simply the primary, and most general, qualities by means of which the amorphous and purely quantitative substance of all bodies first reveals itself in differentiated form.
Alchemy coexisted alongside emerging Christianity. Lactantius believed Hermes Trismegistus had prophesied its birth. Others authors such as Komarios, and Chymes , we only know through fragments of text.
The 2nd millennium BC text Vedas describe a connection between eternal life and gold. According to some scholars Greek alchemy may have influenced Indian alchemy but there are no hard evidences to back this claim.
This art was restricted to certain operations, metals, drugs, compounds, and medicines, many of which have mercury as their core element.
Its principles restored the health of those who were ill beyond hope and gave back youth to fading old age. Some early alchemical writings seem to have their origins in the Kaula tantric schools associated to the teachings of the personality of Matsyendranath.
His book, Rasendramangalam , is an example of Indian alchemy and medicine. The contents of 39 Sanskrit alchemical treatises have been analysed in detail in G.
In some cases Meulenbeld gives notes on the contents and authorship of these works; in other cases references are made only to the unpublished manuscripts of these titles.
A great deal remains to be discovered about Indian alchemical literature. The content of the Sanskrit alchemical corpus has not yet been adequately integrated into the wider general history of alchemy.
Much more is known about Islamic alchemy because it was better documented: indeed, most of the earlier writings that have come down through the years were preserved as Arabic translations.
The early Islamic world was a melting pot for alchemy. Platonic and Aristotelian thought, which had already been somewhat appropriated into hermetical science, continued to be assimilated during the late 7th and early 8th centuries through Syriac translations and scholarship.
The science historian, Paul Kraus, wrote:. To form an idea of the historical place of Jabir's alchemy and to tackle the problem of its sources, it is advisable to compare it with what remains to us of the alchemical literature in the Greek language.
One knows in which miserable state this literature reached us. Collected by Byzantine scientists from the tenth century, the corpus of the Greek alchemists is a cluster of incoherent fragments, going back to all the times since the third century until the end of the Middle Ages.
The efforts of Berthelot and Ruelle to put a little order in this mass of literature led only to poor results, and the later researchers, among them in particular Mrs.
The study of the Greek alchemists is not very encouraging. An even surface examination of the Greek texts shows that a very small part only was organized according to true experiments of laboratory: even the supposedly technical writings, in the state where we find them today, are unintelligible nonsense which refuses any interpretation.
It is different with Jabir's alchemy. The relatively clear description of the processes and the alchemical apparati, the methodical classification of the substances, mark an experimental spirit which is extremely far away from the weird and odd esotericism of the Greek texts.
The theory on which Jabir supports his operations is one of clearness and of an impressive unity. More than with the other Arab authors, one notes with him a balance between theoretical teaching and practical teaching, between the 'ilm and the amal.
In vain one would seek in the Greek texts a work as systematic as that which is presented, for example, in the Book of Seventy. The first essential in chemistry is that thou shouldest perform practical work and conduct experiments, for he who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain to the least degree of mastery.
The discovery that aqua regia , a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids, could dissolve the noblest metal, gold, was to fuel the imagination of alchemists for the next millennium.
Islamic philosophers also made great contributions to alchemical hermeticism. The most influential author in this regard was arguably Jabir.
Jabir's ultimate goal was Takwin , the artificial creation of life in the alchemical laboratory, up to, and including, human life. He analyzed each Aristotelian element in terms of four basic qualities of hotness , coldness , dryness , and moistness.
For example, lead was externally cold and dry, while gold was hot and moist. Thus, Jabir theorized, by rearranging the qualities of one metal, a different metal would result.
Jabir developed an elaborate numerology whereby the root letters of a substance's name in Arabic, when treated with various transformations, held correspondences to the element's physical properties.
The elemental system used in medieval alchemy also originated with Jabir. His original system consisted of seven elements, which included the five classical elements aether , air , earth , fire , and water in addition to two chemical elements representing the metals: sulphur , "the stone which burns", which characterized the principle of combustibility, and mercury , which contained the idealized principle of metallic properties.
Shortly thereafter, this evolved into eight elements, with the Arabic concept of the three metallic principles: sulphur giving flammability or combustion, mercury giving volatility and stability, and salt giving solidity.
In particular, they wrote refutations against the idea of the transmutation of metals. Whereas European alchemy eventually centered on the transmutation of base metals into noble metals, Chinese alchemy had a more obvious connection to medicine.
The philosopher's stone of European alchemists can be compared to the Grand Elixir of Immortality sought by Chinese alchemists.
However, in the hermetic view, these two goals were not unconnected, and the philosopher's stone was often equated with the universal panacea ; therefore, the two traditions may have had more in common than initially appears.
Black powder may have been an important invention of Chinese alchemists. As previously stated above, Chinese alchemy was more related to medicine.
It is said that the Chinese invented gunpowder while trying to find a potion for eternal life. Described in 9th-century texts [ citation needed ] and used in fireworks in China by the 10th century, [ citation needed ] it was used in cannons by Gunpowder was used by the Mongols against the Hungarians in , and in Europe by the 14th century.
Chinese alchemy was closely connected to Taoist forms of traditional Chinese medicine , such as Acupuncture and Moxibustion. In the early Song dynasty , followers of this Taoist idea chiefly the elite and upper class would ingest mercuric sulfide , which, though tolerable in low levels, led many to suicide.
The introduction of alchemy to Latin Europe may be dated to 11 February , with the completion of Robert of Chester 's translation of the Arabic Book of the Composition of Alchemy.
Although European craftsmen and technicians pre-existed, Robert notes in his preface that alchemy though here still referring to the elixir rather than to the art itself  was unknown in Latin Europe at the time of his writing.
The translation of Arabic texts concerning numerous disciplines including alchemy flourished in 12th-century Toledo, Spain , through contributors like Gerard of Cremona and Adelard of Bath.
These brought with them many new words to the European vocabulary for which there was no previous Latin equivalent. Alcohol, carboy, elixir, and athanor are examples.
Meanwhile, theologian contemporaries of the translators made strides towards the reconciliation of faith and experimental rationalism, thereby priming Europe for the influx of alchemical thought.
In the early 12th century, Peter Abelard followed Anselm's work, laying down the foundation for acceptance of Aristotelian thought before the first works of Aristotle had reached the West.
In the early 13th century, Robert Grosseteste used Abelard's methods of analysis and added the use of observation, experimentation, and conclusions when conducting scientific investigations.
Grosseteste also did much work to reconcile Platonic and Aristotelian thinking. Through much of the 12th and 13th centuries, alchemical knowledge in Europe remained centered on translations, and new Latin contributions were not made.
The efforts of the translators were succeeded by that of the encyclopaedists. In the 13th century, Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon were the most notable of these, their work summarizing and explaining the newly imported alchemical knowledge in Aristotelian terms.
Albertus critically compared these to the writings of Aristotle and Avicenna, where they concerned the transmutation of metals. From the time shortly after his death through to the 15th century, more than 28 alchemical tracts were misattributed to him, a common practice giving rise to his reputation as an accomplished alchemist.
Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar who wrote on a wide variety of topics including optics , comparative linguistics , and medicine, composed his Great Work Latin : Opus Majus for Pope Clement IV as part of a project towards rebuilding the medieval university curriculum to include the new learning of his time.
While alchemy was not more important to him than other sciences and he did not produce allegorical works on the topic, he did consider it and astrology to be important parts of both natural philosophy and theology and his contributions advanced alchemy's connections to soteriology and Christian theology.
Bacon's writings integrated morality, salvation, alchemy, and the prolongation of life.