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the Neo-Pythagorean who flourished in the 2nd century b. onwards. But even the Coptic kerne is never connected with "the black art" or alchemy in any text. "black. Amsterdam. and this is in agreement with Greek tradition. Holland. 1.d. Even the very word "alchemy" has been derived from the ancient Egyptian km. Certainly alchemy show us an Egyptian school of alchemists flourishing in the shadows of the great Academy of Alexandria in Hellenistic times from the 1st century a. They seem to have derived the impulse for their researches from Bolos of Mendes." seems more plausible.c. "casting. Gemeente No. themass of evidence on natural phenomena collected by the ancient craftsmen was constantly growing. in Alexandria. Hence the derivation of the word from Greek the that is. The 3. alchemy chyma. 1 Universkeit. arable soil of the Nile Valley and the red." By this term they tried to express the contrast between the black. it should Bearing in mind be realized that the great empires of Egypt and had Mesopotamia and that they spent their strength before the advent of Alexander had fallen an easy prey to the Persian King of Kings. . The philosophy philosophical philosophy and and of the Ancient Near technology tenets of the Iranian and Indian science of the Greeks East civilizations that alchemy was a child of Hellenism. The 2. In order to assess the theories now presented we must realize that three streams of thought have contributed to the rise of alchemy: 1. "the black land. This political decadence is by no means discernible in all aspects of civilization. What pertains to this little detail holds good for the supposed Egyptian origin of alchemy too ifwe examine the evidence closer. that is." Still ifwe analyze such data closer they soon prove to be very decep tive.t. that is. which to every ascribed a hoary age and superhuman wisdom on the oldest documents thing Egyptian. FORBES* MOST textbooks will agree that alchemy was born in Egypt. Thus is it true that the Egyptians called their country km. It is often little realized that the ancient empires of the Near East arose from the Urban Revolution. On the contrary. Amsterdam-Z.ON THE ORIGIN OF ALCHEMY R. barren desert sand. which does not yield in importance * Professor of Address: Haringvlietstraat the History of Science. J.
asphaltite rock-asphalt mastic York. 1950. Forbes. sci.c. : yellow).3 Here the Sumerian onomasticons are the most These structure of that language. some of which we would call chemical or physical tests now. metallurgy that the basic crafts of modern later is. New and Crafts the Maker. Forbes. 1R. hist. : gug. sumerian esir esir. technology. crude oil. In these lists the the peculiar species is denoted by a root-word and each individual characterized by adding a suffix or prefix to this root. writing. The example of such a classification given here will demonstrate its close resemblance to the nomenclature of modern organic chemistry. though here and there a some on sheds this fragment light gradual growth of skill and knowl our On the other material from Mesopotamia is much hand. silver. sig7 egg-stone.f intern. natural and in Egypt and inMesopotamia Both the animals. eyestone. J.2 CHYMIA men." Arch.a : house). plants. revealing because of tag-gaz hardness (as : hard). intern. textiles. "Man nomenclature of bituminous substances general for bitumen.a. The story of this urban civilization which could support the craftsmen with the surplus harvests of the peasants demonstrates a growing importance and specialization of these crafts texts of ancient Egypt recovered and published up to now little very technological material. J.da esir. The classical world had very little to add to these early achievements already in common use by 3000 b. 599-618 (1950). the wheel. in Ancient Egypt.tu) or application (?.ud. products. and Matter in the Ancient East. sci." 2 R. hus nunuz : : red. in lists of objects thought to be related and classified according to external characteristics. that is.igi esir.1 This Urban Revolution brought plough agriculture and irrigation.harsag esir. and the texts from Sumerian up to Neo-Babylonian more times illustrate the accumulation of knowledge on minerals. . denote may : cut stone).d.lah esir. 3 R. 557-573 (1948). the outer form color (gin (igi : blue. was accumulated of the craftsmen and their incor experience guilds porated in the body of knowledge which in both countries is often cast in the form of onomasticons. "Man J. Forbes. and ship. effervescence with vinegar (za. "Professions Arch. 1. hist. edge. 3.e." Near lake-asphalt "house" "dry" refined bitumen bitumen. copper. petroleum "white" crude "shining" "mountain" ("eye") bitumen. the of gold. embodying the external characteristics. The contain abundant.2 to the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century a. and bronze.
Nor does this similarity with later alchemical texts stop there. grey. as is proved both by texts and by archaeological finds. Meissner.c.c. Recipes for themanufacture of synthetic lapis lazuli. p. logical texts such "blood of cryptograms a black snake" as "lion for "castor fat. the uknu or blue copper frit so dear to the Assyrians are frequent. "Dictionary Chemistry of Assyrian Botany. 1936. various shades of red." 1949. The touchstone was certainly in use b." Often a kind of Sumerian medical and terms not only in techno values are used for the Akkadian but in astronomers also those of the and physicians. 5 B.c. In texts. Campbell Thompson4 and others to identifymany of them. 385.) and synthetic silver (K 7942 + 8167. . Familiar household. and Meissner's supposition is not at all fantastic. Thus recipe for the manufacture : "eagle" for ?r? : "copper. "Babylonien amongst the vast mass of unpublished cuneiform tablets. "Dictionary London. and other terms came to be used to certain and tech denote chemical indiscriminately in later alchemical texts we find terms nological operations. Then we also find tablets giving recipes for synthetic copper (K 6246 -f. Vol. have several texts that prove the incidental use of a secret We a of glass dating back to language. and they synthesized some of them. methods to refine and test them.22). reddish Egyptians range brown. of Assyrian and Geology. Thus a vast amount of experimental data was collected in the ages before alchemy. Thus from bright yellow.8157 Rs 17." the 17th century b. und Assyrien. abbreviations occur.We have recovered examples of inlay-work. human are oil" fat" craft-jargon is used. or also have many records of efforts to produce synthetic products." Heidelberg. We must not forget that the art of assaying gold and such native alloys as electrum by the "fining pot" (cupellation) was known as early as 1500 b. The reasons for thismanufacture of alloys apart from their tech nical merits can be partly found in the aesthetic pleasures which crafts men seem to have derived from the proper combinations of colored alloys in their works of art. combining the colors of the gold applied by the their colors artistically. Likewise such as "cooking" (baslu).HU) In other texts crude sulphur is called kibrit ilu nari : "bank of the river. brick color to dull-purple plum color and a peculiar rose-pink. The archaeol We quite for "opium" common. metalwork of all kinds using natural and synthetic alloys. Meissner5 believes that recipes for synthetic gold are still hidden ogists have found many artificial alloys. Oxford. 16. uses ?r? (UD.ON THE ORIGIN OF ALCHEMY 3 This very clear characterization of minerals and natural materials has enabled R. a vast lore of 600 Thus ancients the by possessed properties of metals and alloys." Campbell Thompson. and "roast ing" (kal?) being applied to similar operations in different crafts. K 4290 + 9492 + 9477 Rs 23 if. 4 R. 2. "leaching" or "washing" (mis?). 1925. metallurgical.
However. another knot of the "Net of the another secret helping to understand the Order of Creation and maybe to master Nature. As he conjured the metal out of its ore with the help of the fire-god. or it is characterized way ascribing by to the inorganic world is typical of pre-classical philosophy. and science were still one. like the element of secrecy and initiation gradually creeping into the body of texts. Warnings such as "Let him that knoweth show him that knoweth. The importance of color to the ancients ismanifest from the ancient terms for gold embrace no less than syllabaries. were believed to be subject to the cosmic laws of birth. Early metal like the lurgy is perhaps the best example of this philosophy.8 The name. This color was not only important for the artistic effect to which it was put. his patron. could mean power. peculiar . Any springs from the magical potency allotted inaccurate texts." London. philosophy.6This process dipping the object in was in use many centuries before the oldest written recipes for tinting texts describe methods for staining minerals and metals. structure. Thus the 16 Akkadian nine that refer to a peculiar color or shade. copper. and iron or to oxidation in certain cases this staining is caused of these baser metals. Religion. and death. In antiquity scientific and experimental knowledge never collected as a body of data from which conclusions were drawn as from modern chemical data." edge of the Cosmos as a whole. any word. p. but they occur on tablets on more than 10 cen Kassite of the period too. Also there is that insistence on correct copying which to the written word. Here we touch a most important aspect of ancient meaning was technology.4 Most CHYMIA of these colors are fortuitous and due to natural admixtures of layers varying quantities of silver. "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries. 266. by organic matter. "female" "male" and recognize form "male" is The of sex usually some the harder "male" or darker modification. 1948. but he that knoweth shall not show him that knoweth not!" are found in 7th century medical texts. that is. he interfered with the 6 A. curious writing out was considered heinous. Death and resurrection were their fate. The peculiar rose-pink proved to be a heat-resisting translucent coat of oxide of iron. Metals. Lucas. earth from which they spring. Hence Many The other elements of later alchemy can be found in these early ancient onomasticons same and forms of the mineral This or recipes chemical. Then every bit of chemical knowledge meant deeper knowl World. it had magical as well. Old Akkadian stones by cooking them in solutions or embedding them in chemicals to obtain fake gems. It proved to have been formed by an iron salt solution and heating it. and the smith working these "stones charged with mana" per formed a rite full of secret dangers. glass technology turies earlier. growth.
T.9 merely hastens a natural process.8 and words like salmu (night) and pis? (day) are often used for black and white. we may pause for one moment to ophy summarize the present views on the origin of astrology. gold. 4. and copper that of Ea. Side by side with the older omen-astrology it continued its course until through the centuries the horoscope-astrology prophesying personal fate from the positions of the won or out. This is due to a of the basic tenets on which astrology and very large overlapping alchemy are built.24. Stephen Publications Museum.10 stars at birth and planets conception 7R. Vol. "Metallurgy J. in Antiquity. K 4349) allots silver. Perhaps the sacrifice of an embryo when building is an expiatory offering. gold that of en. and stars (VAT 9874 K. grows. Like the ancient smith. to tin and Anu. Forbes. 8." /." 1919. Section. 10. . But the new horoscopical astrology was based on the calculation of celestial conjunctions and positions. Again we pos Enlil. p. Near Studies. and Nin-a-mal. 8 and "Sumerian Psalms. Leiden. im. metals. 11151). copper. Astrologists prophesying from celestial phenomena either the fate of the land or that of the king (wars. 339. the alchemist metal An old Sumerian hymn compares the change of light into darkness with that of gypsum (gassu. We also find metals being connected with gods or stars more times. It is clear that this belief in the growth of metals is basic for the later alchemical doctrine of the natural perfection of the base metals which gradually turns them into gold.49. sess tablets connecting gods. Liturgies Philadelphia. Silver is called the particularly in Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) A tablet from the British Museum (C. 6 (1949). van der Waerden. p. 10 B. pp. 337.ra. the Earth.3b. a science so we can hardly point out an alchemist closely related to alchemy that who is not a believer in astrology at the same time. It required a standardized zodiac of 12 signs of equal length and came to birth in the 6th and 5th centuries b.ON THE ORIGIN OF ALCHEMY 5 harmonious growth of the metals in the womb of their mother. Or should we see in this rite a means of "charging" themetal with the budding life of the embryo? We have similar texts relating to the offering in sacrifice of embryos by Assyrian glassmakers in the hope that these incomplete beings might assist them during their experiments. 85 ff. 9 ibid.7 In order to assess the effect of Iranian (and maybe Indian) philos on this body of knowledge. Langdon. Eastern "The Thirty-Six Stars. The correlation between gods and stars is already quite common. Ea. of the Babylonian of Pennsylvania University no.par) into bitumen (idd?. : plants.me.) were common enough in early times. etc.c." 1950. L.. and thus gradually the "universal sympathy" principle of the later alchemists of Marduk. harvests. esir).sar. By giving one life for another the smith avoided the revenge of theEarth-goddess.
6 CHYMIA ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF ASTROLOGYAND ALCHEMYCOMPARED ASTRONOMY < o ot 1? U UJ -i ?i o u '5 /O u O )i > z o O? I? o LU CO < CHEMISTRY Incubation Period > o O _i O J? CO < ?I < U Q_ O u CO o o X Codification Period > UJ X u Epigones Arab Alchemy Western Alchemy until about 1800 ASTROLOGY .
32-44. Greek archi physicians tects and scientists travel and work in the Near East and bring back new data and strange beliefs to Greece. Cnidian Mesopotamian serve at the court of the Persian Kings of Kings. as contrasted with the older Moon theology of 5.." antiquity. a belief of Avestan origin 3. is based in the following tenets: philosophical 1. Nouvelle Goossens. ?trangers en Perse sous les Ach?m?nides. later so dear to the Pythagoreans and Gnostics The astrologers believed through the study of numbers and of the universe man could become divine and immortal. politically dominated by the Persians. dualistic philosophy of the struggle between the potamia the Iranian and Evil in which man has to choose his side and Good of great powers were the intellectual leaders. Plato has formulated this "What the Greeks may have taken from the so well in his "Epinomis": to higher perfection. We need not go into details of early horoscopical astrology. which we believe to be that of alchemy too. The Magi and microcosm the of their ism. The 2. bring toMeso The Magi. Clio. Solar theology.C. the birth of which we can establish from dated cuneiform tablets containing horoscopes. Initiation quickly as they are called in later becomes typical of these "mathematicians. harmony between macrocosm theory ii G. Barbarians they have always carried is penetrated from the East. The descent of the soul through a star to the body and its return to heaven through the same star. Number mystics. is characterized by the penetration of the Greeks into the world. 1949.. Would too bold to believe that alchemy too. when the basic elements of Hellenism arose Mesopotamia harmony between macrocosm and microcosm so favor pacification of theNear East had created the political situation to these universal beliefs? the of able spread This incubation period of astrology. The worship of zodiacal signs 4. who carried their dual fight. when Alexander's conquest and ." to flower. world same the time the At Babylonian the exponents of Zoroaster and the Avesta. had its origin in that seething period of the 6th and 5th centuries B.ON THE ORIGIN OF ALCHEMY 7 This new astrology. Through these Greek authors the vague and fluctuating theories of these pre centuries find their systematic treatment in the earliest Hellenistic Hellenistic books on astrology and alchemy. like astrology. "Artistes et artisans 1/2. but we can see from that doctrine how closely related was the atmosphere in it be which astrology grew up to that which we find in alchemy.11 This body of knowledge is still growing and is hardly systematized as itwill be later on by genera tions of Greeks at the universities of the Hellenistic world.
classe lettres. From many sources we know Hermippos that theMagi had penetrated as far as Lydia by the 4th century b. going The old scientific centers of Mesopotamia. country centers In the troubled Seleucid era some of the five Babylonian to survive. This may be the ex and astrological for the fact that the earliest alchemical planation we know by name only) originated in documents (many of which have definite proof that astrology (and probably Alexandria. and their activities were ended only by the in the 13th century a.8 and CHYMIA their belief in the innate powers of man to reach perfection by they are gnosis. . and in Western Mesopotamia. Belg.13 the great Hellenistic Hellenistic of the period. Acad. Antiochia. Still. et d'histoire I'lnstitut de philologie orientales.12 Though generally writing their these scien scientific documents in imperfect Sumerian and Akkadian. Pythagoras is said to have been Euripides' in which the Semitized form of the the "Zaratas Chaldaean." taught by name of Zoroaster is typical for the interpenetration of culture then on inMesopotamia. S?leucides. already in the days of the sue Mongols de sous Alexandre 12 et les S?leucides. We in Mesopotamia and not in Egypt.d. Socrates' death was predicted by a Syrian sage. Niniveh. Kalah." roy. Babylon (and Borsippa)." Annuaire "Les ?coles chald?ennes J. 222-244 (1941). and teach there. 27. 41-89 (1935). to attract the leading personalities and schools. tists and priests spoke Aramaic and even Greek. Not only do Greeks like Kallisthenes bring back scien reach Greece but Chaldaeans tificdata and theories fromMesopotamia. past are lacking. Then early writings and above all Alexandria tended centers like Pergamom. The S?bi'ans Harr?n (Carrhae) flourished right up and "Chaldaeans" of Harr?n were branded as "star worshippers" by the young Arab civilization. and Uruk absorbed many Persian beliefs during times. 3.c. and fate cast by a Chaldaean. Though literature their great in later Hellenistic often dubbed Chaldaeans influence is clear from such writings as the ireplMayan/ written by of Alexandria about 200 b. Bidez. Goossens. another proof of the Its results crystallized in the Greek syncretic character of this period. sous la civilisation Uruk les de "Au d?clin babylonienne: Bull. Assur. which alchemy too) did originate where the direct links with the but traditional was its home. but they declined and were extinguished somehow managed scientific activities were partly continued in the Parthian wars.c. This amalgamation went on through Seleucid Neo-Babylonian time up to the beginning of our era. . By then their influence in Babylonia was so firmly established and mingled with the more ancient Akkadian doctrines that it is impossible to dis entangle them. to the Arab period. far beyond the pales of the Persian Empire. 13 G. Their where centers like Nisibin. Edessa.
the center of gravity for scientific activities lay in and the other new Greek universities." Paris. Klasse. Pfister. they cannot yield any metallurgists. His methods are clearly Babylonian. Phil. and similar tech that the Papyrus It is still widely believed nological operations. No. 15 et F." and he has demonstrated that Bolos' treatise was also uses the accumulated experimental data of the ancient seem to have compiled textbooks on alloying metals.c.17 that these two papyri can never have the proved beyond proof-stage. This is quite in line with the tradi Democritos tional stories about Ostanes. We actually have a Coptic MS dealing with the prac results. and thence the new Alexandria philosophies gravitated. 1928." Leipzig. Egyptian method onto the body to be changed. Cumont. the great pooling center of the Hellenistic sciences. after its incubation period in Mesopotamia. themaking of gems. who faking precious metals and gems. Wiss. Jewish. Bolos takes and from Egyptian.). are such technological hand Leidensis X and the Papyrus Holmiensis form. Anaxilaos und der Magier "Die Physika des Bolos Demokritos hist. This codification period startswith of Mendes the "Physika" of Bolos Democritos (200 b. aus Larissa. published)." der Wolle im Altertum. Wellmann. though in a rather mutilated was book excellent whose unfortunately never carried Reinking. Bidez 16R. to changes "bodies" by embedding them in chemicals which are then mass. 17 K. Thus Ostanes in the art of alchemy. However. 8316) but which has to reconstruct was it Hence possible forReinking Papyrus Holmiensis. both Pfister16 and books. 7.14 Wellmann has pointed out that we still find the traces of this original work in the "Codex composed of four books dealing with themaking of gold. Abhandl. a format very similar to that of the (Berk Pap. where it was crystallized into a clear-cut doc trine by the logical-minded Greeks. his data and philosophy the Magus becomes the teacher of Persian sources. technologists.ON THE ORIGIN OF ALCHEMY 9 cessors of Alexander. Babylonian. "Teinture et alchimie Seminarium dans TOrient hell?nistique. J. . practical tical dyeing of textiles which dates from the 7th or 8th century a. Akad. The traditional of the the penetrate body by prolonged heating seems to have been the "projection" (by sublimation.d. and themanufacture of purple. 1939 (un by "roasting. 1-59 (1935). have represented real textbooks or collections of recipes for dyers and as in the form the recipes are in. "Die F?rberei Reinking. whom King Xerxes sends to Egypt to teach he the Egyptian priests alchemy. themaking of silver. 2 Vols. 1938."15 Kondakovianum. "Les Mages hell?nis?s. preuss. Bolos 14M.) conditioned Marcianus. alchemy with other theories came to Alexandria." 7. Therefore. dyeing (Baphika). which may first be of chemicals etc.
Original contributions to alchemy begin to flow again when theArab scientists enter the scene. Comarius. the transmutation of matter. Iamblichos. The Leiden and Stockholm papyri seem to go back to a Baphika written by Anaxilaos of Larissa in Egypt. The color change. which contains symbolical names for plants and stones. These were found in a grave at Thebes with the magical (Egypt). all aspects of Though we are of course far from understanding we should now also direct our atten alchemy in its codification period. but the harvest ismost promising. After Zosimos we enter the period of the epigones in which the literature as we know it is finally codified and corpus of alchemical commented upon by a host of authors. part of which were Jewess.10 CHYMIA the original dyeing recipes which are reproduced in a mutilated form in the Leiden and Stockholm papyri. Hermes. The prac and philosophical tical (Isis. Moses. It seems that Bolos and the alchemists were interested in the transmutation of matter.c. In the alchemical treatises study and understand of which these two papyri form a part. Cleopatra) ascribed tomythical persons such as Toth. They are mainly Neo-Platonists or Gnostics. Their aim is no longer a practical one but the study of one. were composed in the early codification period ends with Zosimos of centuries of our era. by varnishing and alloying and is quantitatively controlled in some cases by the increase of weight. alchemical doctrine and literature. tion to the incubation period proper. together and XIII and the magical papyri nos. which they believed to be effected and indicated by the color changes produced in alloying and dyeing operations. there we read that salvation can be obtained by the Great Work. It will be necessary to cooperate with cuneiform scholars. is effected by dyeing. where he had been banished by the Emperor Augustus about 26 b. XII published by Preisendanz Papyrus Leidensis V. a philosophical which to these alchemists seems the proof of this transmutation. They therefore made extracts from the and the recipes of the craftsmen of their technological handbooks and of experiments which might allow them to series period produced this transmutation. Bolos' book contained both the philosophical tenets and the tests of the alchemists. Ostanes) (Maria the treatises. Already in his writings we find a strong religious factor. There are . who have nothing new to con tribute. New terms duced to denote the perfectly innocuous chemicals of the dyers and metallurgists. should never forget that the seemingly practical recipes of the We two papyri Leiden and Stockholm papyri do not stand alone. The in who and 4th centuries summarizes the entire the 3rd Panopolis. many of the practical recipes are or cryptograms have been intro reproduced only partly. to whom alchemy is part of their religico-philosophical doctrine.
and technical" which "medical.ON THE ORIGIN OF ALCHEMY 11 still scores of cuneiform tablets yet undeciphered and now indifferently dubbed chemical. . pharmaceutical. on the rise of alchemical doctrines promise to yield important data codified in the early Hellenistic period by Bolos and the Greek alchemists of Alexandria.
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