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An alchemist is a person versed in the art of alchemy. Western alchemy flourished in Greco-Roman Egypt , the Islamic world during the Middle Ages , and then in Europe from the 13th to the 18th centuries.
Indian alchemists and Chinese alchemists made contributions to Eastern varieties of the art. Historically alchemists are considered precursors of the modern scientists protoscience.
Alchemy is still practiced today by a few, and alchemist characters still appear in recent fictional works and video games. However, modern Alchemy is considered a pseudoscience.
A large number of alchemists are known from the thousands of surviving alchemical manuscripts and books. Some of their names are listed below.
Due to the tradition of pseudepigraphy , the true author of some alchemical writings may differ from the name most often associated with that work.
Some well-known historical figures such as Albertus Magnus and Aristotle are often incorrectly named amongst the alchemists as a result. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Alchemy and chemistry in medieval Islam. 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.
Zosimos of Panopolis wrote the oldest known books on alchemy, [ citation needed ] while Mary the Jewess is credited as being the first non-fictitious Western alchemist.
They wrote in Greek and lived in Egypt under Roman rule. 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 Vedas describe a connection between eternal life and gold. Buddhist texts from the 2nd to 5th centuries mention the transmutation of base metals to gold.
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. Reliable scholarship on Indian alchemy has been advanced in a major way by the publication of The Alchemical Body by David Gordon White.
An important modern bibliography on Indian alchemical studies has also been provided by David Gordon White at Oxford Bibliographies Online.
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.
After the fall of the Roman Empire , the focus of alchemical development moved to the Islamic World.
Much more is known about Islamic alchemy because it was better documented: 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: 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. 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: Shortly thereafter, this evolved into eight elements, with the Arabic concept of the three metallic principles: 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 , and to martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan [ citation needed ] and Kung Fu although some Tai Chi schools believe that their art derives from the philosophical or hygienic branches of Taoism, not Alchemical.
In fact, 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 preexisted, Robert notes in his preface that alchemy 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 monk 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. His correspondence with Clement highlighted this, noting the importance of alchemy to the papacy.
He noted that the theoretical lay outside the scope of Aristotle, the natural philosophers, and all Latin writers of his time. The practical, however, confirmed the theoretical thought experiment, and Bacon advocated its uses in natural science and medicine.
In particular, along with Albertus Magnus, he was credited with the forging of a brazen head capable of answering its owner's questions.
Soon after Bacon, the influential work of Pseudo-Geber sometimes identified as Paul of Taranto appeared. His Summa Perfectionis remained a staple summary of alchemical practice and theory through the medieval and renaissance periods.
It was notable for its inclusion of practical chemical operations alongside sulphur-mercury theory, and the unusual clarity with which they were described.
Adepts believed in the macrocosm-microcosm theories of Hermes, that is to say, they believed that processes that affect minerals and other substances could have an effect on the human body for example, if one could learn the secret of purifying gold, one could use the technique to purify the human soul.
They believed in the four elements and the four qualities as described above, and they had a strong tradition of cloaking their written ideas in a labyrinth of coded jargon set with traps to mislead the uninitiated.
Finally, the alchemists practiced their art: Their entire philosophy revolved around their belief that man's soul was divided within himself after the fall of Adam.
By purifying the two parts of man's soul, man could be reunited with God. In the 14th century, alchemy became more accessible to Europeans outside the confines of Latin speaking churchmen and scholars.
Alchemical discourse shifted from scholarly philosophical debate to an exposed social commentary on the alchemists themselves. Pope John XXII 's edict, Spondent quas non exhibent forbade the false promises of transmutation made by pseudo-alchemists.
These critiques and regulations centered more around pseudo-alchemical charlatanism than the actual study of alchemy, which continued with an increasingly Christian tone.
The 14th century saw the Christian imagery of death and resurrection employed in the alchemical texts of Petrus Bonus , John of Rupescissa , and in works written in the name of Raymond Lull and Arnold of Villanova.
Nicolas Flamel is a well-known alchemist, but a good example of pseudepigraphy , the practice of giving your works the name of someone else, usually more famous.
Although the historical Flamel existed, the writings and legends assigned to him only appeared in His work spends a great deal of time describing the processes and reactions, but never actually gives the formula for carrying out the transmutations.
Most of 'his' work was aimed at gathering alchemical knowledge that had existed before him, especially as regarded the philosopher's stone.
Bernard Trevisan and George Ripley made similar contributions. Their cryptic allusions and symbolism led to wide variations in interpretation of the art.
During the Renaissance , Hermetic and Platonic foundations were restored to European alchemy. The dawn of medical, pharmaceutical, occult, and entrepreneurial branches of alchemy followed.
These were previously unavailable to Europeans who for the first time had a full picture of the alchemical theory that Bacon had declared absent.
Renaissance Humanism and Renaissance Neoplatonism guided alchemists away from physics to refocus on mankind as the alchemical vessel.
Esoteric systems developed that blended alchemy into a broader occult Hermeticism, fusing it with magic, astrology, and Christian cabala.
He was instrumental in spreading this new blend of Hermeticism outside the borders of Italy. Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus , Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, — cast alchemy into a new form, rejecting some of Agrippa's occultism and moving away from chrysopoeia.
Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine and wrote, "Many have said of Alchemy, that it is for the making of gold and silver.
For me such is not the aim, but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines. His hermetical views were that sickness and health in the body relied on the harmony of man the microcosm and Nature the macrocosm.
He took an approach different from those before him, using this analogy not in the manner of soul-purification but in the manner that humans must have certain balances of minerals in their bodies, and that certain illnesses of the body had chemical remedies that could cure them.
John Dee 13 July — December, followed Agrippa's occult tradition. Although better known for angel summoning, divination, and his role as astrologer , cryptographer, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I , Dee's alchemical  Monas Hieroglyphica , written in was his most popular and influential work.
His writing portrayed alchemy as a sort of terrestrial astronomy in line with the Hermetic axiom As above so below. Robert Boyle and Elias Ashmole.
Proponents of the supernatural interpretation of alchemy believed that the philosopher's stone might be used to summon and communicate with angels.
Entrepreneurial opportunities were common for the alchemists of Renaissance Europe. Alchemists were contracted by the elite for practical purposes related to mining, medical services, and the production of chemicals, medicines, metals, and gemstones.
Although most of these appointments were legitimate, the trend of pseudo-alchemical fraud continued through the Renaissance. Betrüger would use sleight of hand, or claims of secret knowledge to make money or secure patronage.
Legitimate mystical and medical alchemists such as Michael Maier and Heinrich Khunrath wrote about fraudulent transmutations, distinguishing themselves from the con artists.
The terms "chemia" and "alchemia" were used as synonyms in the early modern period, and the differences between alchemy, chemistry and small-scale assaying and metallurgy were not as neat as in the present day.
There were important overlaps between practitioners, and trying to classify them into alchemists, chemists and craftsmen is anachronistic.
Sendivogious taught his technique to Cornelius Drebbel who, in , applied this in a submarine. Isaac Newton devoted considerably more of his writing to the study of alchemy see Isaac Newton's occult studies than he did to either optics or physics.
Other early modern alchemists who were eminent in their other studies include Robert Boyle , and Jan Baptist van Helmont.
Their Hermeticism complemented rather than precluded their practical achievements in medicine and science. The decline of European alchemy was brought about by the rise of modern science with its emphasis on rigorous quantitative experimentation and its disdain for "ancient wisdom".
Although the seeds of these events were planted as early as the 17th century, alchemy still flourished for some two hundred years, and in fact may have reached its peak in the 18th century.
As late as James Price claimed to have produced a powder that could transmute mercury into silver or gold.
Early modern European alchemy continued to exhibit a diversity of theories, practices, and purposes: Robert Boyle — pioneered the scientific method in chemical investigations.
He assumed nothing in his experiments and compiled every piece of relevant data. Boyle would note the place in which the experiment was carried out, the wind characteristics, the position of the Sun and Moon, and the barometer reading, all just in case they proved to be relevant.
Beginning around , a rigid distinction was drawn between "alchemy" and "chemistry" for the first time. This move was mostly successful, and the consequences of this continued into the 19th and 20th centuries, and even to the present day.
During the occult revival of the early 19th century, alchemy received new attention as an occult science. In the 19th-century revival of alchemy, the two most seminal figures were Mary Anne Atwood and Ethan Allen Hitchcock , who independently published similar works regarding spiritual alchemy.
Both forwarded a completely esoteric view of alchemy, as Atwood claimed: Hitchcock, in his Remarks Upon Alchymists attempted to make a case for his spiritual interpretation with his claim that the alchemists wrote about a spiritual discipline under a materialistic guise in order to avoid accusations of blasphemy from the church and state.
In , Baron Carl Reichenbach , published his studies on Odic force , a concept with some similarities to alchemy, but his research did not enter the mainstream of scientific discussion.
Several women appear in the earliest history of alchemy. Michael Maier names Mary the Jewess , Cleopatra the Alchemist , Medera , and Taphnutia as the four women who knew how to make the philosopher's stone.
The first alchemist whose name we know is said to have been Mary the Jewess c. The laboratory water-bath, known eponymously especially in France as the bain-marie , is said to have been invented or at least improved by her.
The tribikos a modified distillation apparatus and the kerotakis a more intricate apparatus used especially for sublimations are two other advancements in the process of distillation that are credited to her.