Trenholm 2In recent years the alchemist, and alchemy in general, has been reduced to afictional, mythical symbol. In literature, the alchemist is often a representative of science,logic and reason—but also of things magical and mystical. It is true, then, that thealchemist was a pursuer of mythical objects, recipes and artefacts; such great items of mythology like the Philosopher’s Stone, now immortalized in the popular science-fictionseries, Harry Potter, as well as the Grand Elixir of Immortality, a magical draught that,when consumed, would grant the imbiber immortality
. One would guess, then, for suchmythical elements, alchemy would be a somewhat dated, if not archaic, science—and thisis true. The practice of alchemy originates as far back as 400 B.C.
, in China, wherealchemists of the medical persuasion were searching studiously for various curatives andmedicinal elixirs—in addition, of course, to the aforementioned Elixir of Immortality.Alchemy was not limited to China in the ancient world, however; it soon found roots inAncient Egypt, Greece, Persia and India. As time passed, the mysteries of the professionwere traded and shared, leading to many significant and insignificant technologicaldevelopments—innovations such as Chinese Black Powder and Egyptian papyrus
; thelatter a useful tool, the former an invention that would change the course of history.Alchemy, then, is not just a science of magic and mythology, as it has contributed largelyto the technological development of the human species. It stands acknowledged today asthe predecessor to chemistry, a widely practiced and incredibly important field of study inthe advancement of many sciences. As it often was with alchemy, chemistry is valued inmany fields of technological development and study; it would be a herculean task indeedto measure its contribution to the modern world. Alchemy’s sudden evolution into
Trevor H. Levere, Transforming Matter: A History of Chemistry from Alchemy to Buckyball. (Baltimore:The John Hopkins University Press, 2001), 1.
Fathi Habashi, From Alchemy to Atomic Bombs. (Quebec City: Métallurgie Extractive, 2002), 71.