BERNARD D. HAAGE Alchemy II: Antiquity-12th Century (cont.)
2. ZOSIMOS OF PANOPOLIS
The first historical alchemist, Zosimos of Panopolis (Akhmim) in Egypt, who was active around A.D. 300, knew the Hermettca. Latin (Western) alchemy calls him Rosinus. The Suda ("Souda", c. l000), the most important, comprehensive Byzantine encyclopaedia, credits him with an alchemical encyclopaedia in twenty-eight volumes entitled Cheirokmeta ("Handles"). Only Greek and Syrian fragments have survived, somewhat distorted in a Christian sense, for Zosimos was not a Christian.
There is also a scries of Arabic quotations. We have particular knowledge of Zosimos from the commentary of the Byzantine alchemist Olympiodoros (6th century).
On the one hand, Zosimos was a practical alchemist. Like Mary the Jewess, he places great value on apparatus, e.g. his book On Apparatus and Furnaces, and many alchemical recipes of his have survived. On the other hand, he gives the first instance of alchemical allegory and a coded language, because he pleads that the alchemical art be kept secret and charges Bolos of Mendes with having made it public. An example of his enigmatic language would be the following "description" of the Philosophers' Stone in dichotomous paradoxes: 'This stone which isn't a stone, this precious thing which has no value, this polymorphous thing which has no form, this unknown thing which is known to all'. In one of his works, the "Commentary on the Letter Omega" which probably belongs among the twenty-eight books of the alchemical encyclopaedia, he debates with his sister Theose-beia, that a sage who has self-knowledge needs no kind of magic to influence something. In contrast, he allows everything to develop according to the necessity of nature and thus produces permanent "natural tinctures". Zosimos' portrait of the true alchemist, e.g. in the book "On the Treatment of Magnesia", displays obvious Hermetic features. Zosimos introduces not only Hermetism together with reminiscences of current myths and religions to alchemy, but also the allegorical encoding of his ideas concerning the redemption of the corporeal, transient existence, of metals as well as men, into the immaterial realm of the spirit. Zosimos' endeavours are most clear in his alchemistic "Dream" or "Vision", the title of his allegory of the alchemical work. In fact, this is neither a dream nor a vision, but Zosimos chooses to use the literary form of an allegorical dream. With his ideas of clarification and metanoia, linked to a serial progression through purification to illumination and perfection, Zosimos stands at the beginning of a tradition - at once mythical, mystical, religious, philosophical, scientific, metallurgical and alchemical - which has been repeated a thousandfold by alchemists ever since. Zosimos' dream allegory presents all these traditions so clearly, that one may speak of a didactic text, artfully divided into three parts, and intentionally written in a coded linguistic form.
3. ALEXANDRIAN AND BYZANTINE ALCHEMICAL LITERATURE
After Zosimos of Panopolis, Greek alchemy exhausts itself in the repetition of old theory, in the elaboration and development of imagery in literary formulations, as well as wearisome descriptions of practical work. However, this has left a valuable legacy. Greek alchemy has been handed down to us in collections of manuscripts, including the already quoted Codex Marcianus 299 (11th century), as well as the Greek Codices 2325 (i3th century) and 2327 (15th century) of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. All other Greek survivals derive from these manuscripts. Greek alchemy exhibits the following literary genres: recipe, allegory, riddle, revelatory vision, didactic poem or letter, a tract in dialogue, and commentary. The Greek alchemists of the 4th century, especially Pelagros, Dioscoros, and Syne-sius are not proven historical figures. Only Synesius, who directs his commentary on Pseudo-Demo-critos to Dioscoros, can be identified with some probability as the Neoplatonist Synesius of Cyrene (c. 370-c. 414), bishop of Ptolemais in 410-411.
The transition from Alexandrian to Byzantine alchemy took place in the 5th century. Olympiodo-ros, a pagan historian and alchemist from Thebes in Egypt, inaugurates this process. The work entitled "The philosopher Olympiodoros on Zosimos, Hermes and the Philosophers" is attributed to him. It exhibits Gnostic influence as well as a knowledge of practical alchemy, especially in the description of equipment, but contains nothing new otherwise. He broadly concerns himself with the philosophical bases of alchemy, especially the Greek philosophers of nature, and repeatedly quotes extracts from Zosimos, described as the "Crown of the Philosophers".
The rhetorical and metaphorical expansion of alchemy, already present in Oiympiodoros to an unprecedented degree, culminates in Greek alchemy with Stephanos of Alexandria (7th century). During the reign of emperor Herakleios (610-641) he taught philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and -> music. Besides a commentary on Aristotle and a work on astronomy, he composed an alchemical tract in nine lectures. In an eclectic fashion, he combined a mystical Christianity with ideas of the Pythagoreans, Platonism and other philosophical currents. He presents alchemy not as practical laboratory work but as an intellectual and spiritual process. He interprets the practice of alchemy in a mystical way as the clarification of the soul, following in Zosimos' tradition. He stylizes the transmutation of base metals into gold as a symbol for the perfection of the human spirit through understanding in a Gnostic sense. He uses the ancient metaphorical tradition, but disguises its sexual symbolism, which occurs overtly in Cleopatra as coitus, pregnancy and birth.
In the ensuing period, Christian ideas and images as well as references to the New Testament become increasingly prominent in the metaphorical usage of Greek alchemy. Overall, the interest in practical laboratory work recedes, while the poetic and allegorical ornament increases. Poems of this "allegorizing" tendency by Heliodoros, Theophrastos, Hierotheos and Archelaos have survived from the 8th and 9th centuries. The old practice of encoding continues, but also basic ideas, e.g. the composition of all things from body, soul and spirit, as in Archelaos.
Now alchemy, ever since Zosimos, manifests in a mythologised and psychologised form. This transmutation was linked with notions of death and reawakening in the oriental mystery-cults, crowned by the Gnostic idea of redemption through knowledge. This combination of practical knowledge and the esoteric formulation of mythological, psychic and soteriological ideas is continued in this period by Salmanas (9th-ioth century) and Psellus (11th century), through whom alchemical knowledge reached the Latin West. However, unlike the innovations which Arab alchemy introduced to the Christian West, Byzantine alchemy brought no new theoretical ideas.
4. ARAB ALCHEMICAL LITERATURE
Translations from Greek and Syrian into Arabic made by Syrian-speaking Nestorians in Nisibis and Edessa and the Sabaeans in Harran proliferated under educated rulers like Harun al-Rashid (c. 764-809) and Al-Ma'mun (787-833). Besides these centres of learning, Greek science entered the Islamic world through the Academy of Gondishapur founded during the Sassanid dynasty (224-651) in west Persia and through Egyptian centres, especially Alexandria.
Since the end of the 8th century there were also sufficient numbers of Muslim translators proficient in Greek. As far as alchemical literature is concerned, several Persian and even Babylonian-Assyrian ideas and concepts found in Arabic versions are attributable to their translation in Persian and Mesopotamian locations. The newly developing Arabic literature of alchemy relied on these translations and so transmitted both authentic material, above all Zosimos, as well as pseudepigraphic works, which were not recognised as such. These included, for example, Thaies, Pythagoras, Leukip-pos, Empedocles, Democritos, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, but also "Agathodaimon", "Chimes", "Hermes" and Hermetic writings, such as the already cited Tabula Smaragdina, which originally stood at the end of "The Book of the Secret of Creation" by Balinas (Pseudo-Apollonios of Tyana), and further authorities like Cleopatra, Mary the Jewess, Ostanes and others. Such pseudepigrapha in Arabic alchemy have still not been adequately researched.
From the 8th century onwards, Islamic scholars enter the historical stage. Only several of the great number of Muslim alchemists, who produced original and representative work, can be given as examples. Arab historiography is problematic, as legend is not always distinguishable from historical truth. The most important historical source is the "Fihrist" (kitab-al-Fihrist) of Ibn [-Abi-Yakub]-an-Nadim (second half loth century).
Ibn an-Nadim introduces the Umayyad prince Khalid (Halid b. Yazid b. Mu'awiya) at the turn of the 7th to the 8th century as the first Arab alchemist. He claims to have seen works by him and his alchemical testament to his son. There are similar reports by other Arab historians. It is still an open question whether the historical Khalid is identical with this alchemist. However, Khalid's principal importance is his legacy to the Christian West, as the dialogue of Khalid with his alchemy teacher Maryanus (i.e. Morienus Romanus) was the first alchemical text to be translated from Arabic into Latin by -> Robert of Chester in 1144, later printed under the title Liber de compositione alche-miae quern edidit Morienus Romanus, Calid regi Aegyptiorum: quern Robertus Castrensis de Arabico in Latinum transtulit. It is true that Khalid is credited with several alchemical works, among them "The Paradise of Wisdom", a divan of alchemical didactic poems, which were frequently quoted later.
5. JABIR AND THE CORPUS JABIRIANUM The reception of Greek learning swiftly led to remarkable achievements in Arab alchemy, first evident in the extremely influential Corpus Jabiri-anum. Evolving from the 8th to the loth century, its authorship is attributed to Jabir (ibn Hayyan), who is the subject of much scholarly debate owing to scant historical evidence. In any case, this Jabir or Arab Geber must have been succeeded by the Latin Geber of the I3th century, who is credited with a text which was produced in Italy. Jabir provides evidence of himself as a historical personality in the 8th-9th century by repeatedly asserting that he is a pupil of Ja'far as-Sadiq and that he followed the latter in the content and structure of his writings. The Imam 'Abd Allah Ja'far al-Sadiq (c. 700-765) lived a reclusive life in Medina. He must have enjoyed a high reputation, because a great number of legendary pseudepigrapha have gathered around his name. In one such attributed work, "The Open Letter of Ja'far as-Sadiq regarding the Science of the Art and of the Noble Stone", one encounters in Arab alchemical literature the earliest subdivision of the metals as of all things into the triad body, soul and spirit, which plays such an important role in -> Paracelsus as "Salt, Sulphur and Mercury".
The Corpus jabirianum is extremely voluminous and treats of all ancient sciences. Three thousand titles in total are known, of which many relate to chapter-headings. The most important writings of Jabir are the following:
- "The Compassion", also known as "The Foundation", appears to be the oldest work in view of its archaic terminology. Ja'far is not named in this work.
- "The Hundred and Twelve Books", which continue and offer a commentary on "The Compassion" have only survived in fragmentary form (thirty "books" are preserved). The description of the elixir as made not only of mineral but also from organic, that is animal and vegetable substances, is especially significant for the further development of alchemical ideas. Ja'far is named here.
- "The Seventy Books" contain the most uniform and systematic plan of Jabirian alchemy. Greek authorities are frequently quoted. Ja'far is named only once. This general survey of Jabirian alchemy also contains, like "The Compassion", the Sulphur-Mercury theory, which Jabir probably derived from Balinas (Pseudo-Apollonios of Tyana). Parts of the "Seventy Books" were translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona as Liber de Septuaginta and then used widely in the
- "The Ten Books of Rectifications" are concerned with improvements in alchemy by specific authorities. Such "rectifications" are written by various alchemical authors under the assumed names of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Democritos among others.
- "The Books of the Balances", originally one hundred and forty-four in number, of which forty-four survive, deal not only with alchemy but also with -> astrology, medicine, logic, physics, metaphysics, arithmetic, music, grammar and prosody. Jabir gleans insights from all these sciences for his special theory of "balance".
- "The Seven Metals", whose contents continue the discussion of the theory of "balance".
- "The Development of the Potential into the Actual" is concerned with the theoretical assumptions of contemporary natural science such as the doctrines of the elements and qualities, astronomy, meteorology and "klimata", that is the latitudinal zones of the earth. Here one finds the fundamental questions of all Jabirian texts arising from such fields as medicine, alchemy, sympathetic influences, theurgy, -> astrology, the science of balances and the artificial creation of life.
- "The Great Book of Properties" appears disordered in its seventy-one chapters, because in its composition fifty core chapters were supplemented by slightly abridged chapters. This book contains the important innovation of iatrochem-istry, that is the alchemical preparation of medicines, so crucial for the further development of Western alchemy (-> Jean de Rocquetaillade, Paracelsus).
Concerning sources, it is evident that Jabir chiefly relies on Arabic translations of Greek pseudepi-graphical literature, which he wrongly assumes to be authentic. This is usually the case with Pseudo-Socrates, Plato, Porphyry, Democritos, Agathodai-mon and Pseudo-Apollonios of Tyana (Balinas). The only genuine quotations stem exclusively from Aristotle and Galen - Jabir is familiar with the humoral doctrine of medicine - as well as from the only real alchemist, Zosimos. Jabir's alchemical theory may be sketched as follows:
The foundation and touchstone of all traditional as well as discovered theory is experiment. Aristotle's doctrine of the elements, which derives from Empedocles of Agrigent, is combined in the Corpus Jabirianum with the doctrine of qualities in its early form as in Galen. The alchemist must endeavour to produce a state of equilibrium. The goal of transmutation is to achieve the same composition of the elementary qualities as obtained in gold. Jabir wanted to achieve this with elixirs. When preparing elixirs, the raw material should first be broken down into the four elements, e.g. by dry distillation, which are then added in an appropriate manner to the specific elixir with reference to the "lack" in the material which is to be transmuted. In this way, Jabir considers it possible to "heal" the "sick" matter or metal, by bringing its elementary qualities into the same equilibrium as of gold. For all that, quantitative thought enters alchemical theory here. In Jabir, the elementary qualities are carried by the two philosophical principles Mercury and Sulphur, from which the metals arise under the influence of the planets. Jabir's Mercury-Sulphur theory may have been prompted by the Arab encyclopaedia of his revered Balinas (Pseudo-Apollonios of Tyana), which was known as "The Causes", "The Collector of Things", but mostly as "The Book of the Secret of Creation".
Jabir's basic conviction that natural events are ordered according to measure and purpose leads him to place no limits on the alchemist's ability to imitate the world-creating demiurge. Everything is possible, even artificial procreation, that is the homunculus. One merely needs to produce the right mixture of elementary qualities through elixirs. The innovation of the Corpus Jabirianum^ as in "The Seventy Books", in the preparation of such elixirs for transmutation consists in the use, besides minerals, of organic, animal and plant substances: blood, hair, sperm, bones, lions' urine, poisonous snakes, foxes, oxen, gazelles, asses, as well as parts of olive, jasmine, onion, ginger, pepper, mustard, pear, anenome and aconite.
A further idea from the Corpus Jabirianum, which only blossomed fully in Western alchemy, was the use of the elixir in medicine as a remedy, even as a panacea. In the sixth maqala of "The Great Book of Properties", Jabir reports that he healed a thousand patients on a single day with the aid of the elixir. He also used it with success against snake bites and poisonings.
The Corpus Jabirianum is based on empirical results, but it does not achieve the level of Rhazes, especially regarding alchemical equipment and substances. The Corpus Jabirianum divides minerals into the following classes: i) "spirits", that is volatile substances like sulphur, arsenic (arsenic sulphide, realgar, auripigment), mercury, camphor and salmiac (Sal ammoniacum), which was scarcely mentioned in earlier Arab alchemical literature, and whose production from organic substances, e.g. hair, is described in the Corpus, 2) Metals, namely gold, silver, lead, tin, copper, iron and "khar sini" ("Chinese iron", still unidentified). 3) Eight further groups of minerals. The empirical aspect of the Corpus Jabirianum also demonstrates highly practical techniques, e.g. the production of steel and refinement, dyeing, protection from corrosion, and the making of "gold" ink from marca-site for the illumination of manuscripts.
Apart from the corpuscular theory, Jabirian alchemy contains the principal ideas of all ensuing alchemy. The Corpus Jabirianum knows of the esoteric, metaphorical, occult as well as the exoteric aspect of alchemy. It offers both theory and empirical practice.
The great Persian physician and alchemist Rhazes (865-915) offers the most striking example of a thoroughly exoteric, sober, and practical alchemy. His full name is Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi, that is "the man of Ray" (ancient Rhagae) near Teheran. Together with Jabir, the alchemist Rhazes exercised the greatest influence on Western alchemy. He based his thought largely on Jabir, but did not accept his theory of balance. He compiled his alchemical works in a list called "Pinax". Towards the end of his life he abridged his major work "The Book of Secrets" (Kitab al Asrar) as "The Secret of Secrets" (K. Sirr al Asrar), with an almost identical introduction. Here "secret" must be understood in the sense of technical knowledge. A collection of twelve further books belongs to the alchemical corpus of Rhazes, including "The Book of Propaedeutic Introduction" (written c. 900-910), which presents contemporary alchemy in a clear and systematic fashion like a modern introduction to chemistry.
Rhazes was chiefly devoted to practical alchemy and experiment. Although his thinking is far removed from the allegory of Greek alchemy or an Ibn Umail and is reticent in speculation, he follows the theory of Jabir in particular. He accepts the Aristotelian doctrine of elements, also the Mercury-Sulphur theory of Balinas realised by Jabir, regards "Sulphur" as non-inflammable oil and adds to Mercury and Sulphur a third constituent of a salty nature, a triad which is naturally reminiscent of Paracelsus. Like Jabir, he uses plant and animal products for the preparation of elixirs, with which the base, "sick" metals can be "healed" into gold, and furthermore systematically classifies all chemical substances into animal, vegetable and mineral. A corpuscular theory is manifest in Rhazes' "Book of Secrets", more sharply defined than its vague beginnings in the Corpus Jabiri-anum: bodies consist of the smallest indivisible parts, that is atoms. These are eternal and have a definite size. The qualities of the perceived elements, lightness, heaviness, colour, softness, hardness, depend on the density of the atoms, that is on the amount of the empty space between them.
Rhazes' ideas concerning the theory of matter later influenced the corpuscular theory of the Latin Geber towards the end of the 13th century. Armed with this theory, Rhazes describes the alchemical work in precise terms: distillation, calcination, solution, evaporation, crystallisation, sublimation, filtration, amalgamation, ceration, i.e. a process for making substances into a waxy solid. For the transmutation, the substances are purified by distillation and calcination. They are then amalgamated. Following their purification they are next prepared in a waxen state, without any evolution of fumes. There follows the solution in "sharp waters", not generally acids (lemon juice, sour milk), but rather alkaline and ammoniacal solutions. Finally, a coagulation or solidification was performed to produce the elixir.
After Rhazes came -> Avicenna (980-1037), i.e. Abu 'Ali al-Husain ibn Abdullah ibn Sina, the supreme medical authority among Islamic doctors. Like Rhazes, he was widely educated in many fields including alchemy - although he wrote no work on the subject and was no alchemist. However, his name was used pseudepigraphically for a number of alchemical books. His most important philosophical work, a kind of Aristotelian encyclopaedia dealing with the sciences of logic, physics, mathematics and metaphysics, bears the title Book of the Remedy, which refers to the recovery from ignorance. Here he treated of the natural generation of the metals and thundered his famous invective against the alchemists, which the Latins quote as "Sciant artifices", i.e. "The alchemists should know..." Avicenna took a position contrary to Jabir's belief in limitless feasibility. The products of nature are better than those produced artificially. Alchemical art never measures up to nature. For this reason, neither can it transmute base into noble metals. Like Jabir, but as an opponent of the art of making gold, Avicenna signposts the purpose of alchemical elixirs as remedies in human medicine, a challenge first fulfilled in the Christian world.
8. THE TURBA PHILOSOPHORUM
The Turba philosophorum or "Convention of Philosophers" (as adepts called themselves) has enjoyed the greatest favour among alchemists up to modern times, despite or possibly because of its obscure language, which has still not been adequately explained up to the present day. The Turba first appears in manuscripts of the 12th century, a Latin edition was first printed at Basle in 1572, and the first German translation by Paul Hildenbrandt appeared at Frankfurt in 1597. Surviving fragments of the lost Arabic original bear the title "The Book of the Convention". The doxographic work, written in Arabic around 900, is entirely based on Greek alchemy. The Turba quotes entire passages from Pseudo-Democritos and Olympiodoros. There are also textual parallels with the first book of the Refutatio omnium haerestum by the Church father Hippolytus (3rd century), in which nine of the Turba discussants appear. There are no references to Arab alchemists nor any mention of the Mercury-Sulphur theory. The text is manifestly an Arab edition of an original Greek work.
The Latin edition presents the Turba in a fictional narrative framework as the report of Archelaos, called "Arisleus", on the "Third Pythagorean Synod", to which Pythagoras allegedly invited his pupils across the world. Pre-Socratic philosophers, their identity masked by gross distortions of their names, speak predominantly in debate with the convention: Anaximandros, Anaximenes, Anaxo-goras, Empedocles, Archelaos, Leukippos, Ekphan-tos, Pythagoras and Xenophanes, besides Socrates and Plato.
There is little in the Turba relating to alchemical procedures. The four elements must be mixed. Only then can they combine in new substances. Thus, "our copper" must first be transmuted into silver, before one can proceed with the preparation of gold. Coded names obstruct further interpretation. The author of the Turba has clearly not practised alchemy himself, as indicated by his recommendation of alchemical literature instead of experiment - a statement he puts in the mouth of Parmenides in the eleventh chapter. There is a wide gap here with the thought of Jabir and Rhazes, and the scholars of Salerno and Chartres in the nth and 12th centuries.
9. IBN UMAIL
The most prominent representative of allegorical alchemy is Abu 'Abdullah Muhammad ibn Umail at-Tamimi (c. 900-c. 960), whom the Latin writers called Senior Zadith Filius Hamuel. He wrote two influential major works besides various poems. The first is entitled The Book of Silvery Water and Starry Earth, while its Latin translation is known as Tabula chemica or Senioris antiquissimi philoso-phi libellus. Both express Ibn Umail's allegorical and encoded manner of expression. In this book he claims to be interpreting the secrets of alchemy, revealed to him when visiting the temple in Sidr Busir. He particularly enlarges on the alchemical doctrines of ancient, pre-Islamic authorities, including Zosimos, Mary the Jewess and the Herme-tica, as well as the Turba philosophorum. Among Islamic alchemists he quotes only Jabir, occasionally engaging in polemics against him, and appears well acquainted with several books of the Corpus Jabirianum. He either knows nothing of Rhazes, which is hardly conceivable, or else he wishes to ignore him as the leading exoteric authority. He is wholly indebted to metaphorical Greek alchemy and closes his eyes to the achievements of Islamic alchemy.
In his introduction he refers to his second major work, "Epistle of the Sun to the Crescent Moon", in which he gives poetic expression to his alchemical insights at the temple in Sidr Busir. There are ninety strophes and a total of 448 verses of "extraordinary wooden doggerel" about the sun, the great elixir and the half-moon, namely mercury. The first work is presented as a commentary on the poetic, second work.
The "Epistle" also exists in a Latin version under the title Epistola Solis ad Lunam crescentem. This second work of Ibn Umail was used in the late medieval period as a source for a widely circulated, anonymous German poem, which was integrated into the Latin and German editions of the Rosarium philosophorum. Its contents revolve around the relationship dictated by nature between Sol and Luna, seen in sexual terms as the love-play of cock and hen.
In retrospect it is evident that Arab alchemy knows both theory and practice, the esoteric aspect with its metaphorical language and the exoteric with its struggle to understand matter and experimentation expressed in sober, objective language. There are divergent opinions concerning the possibility of transmutation, with Jabir and Rhazes pro and Avicenna contra. Innovations include the preparation of the elixir from plant and animal substances, the doctrine of the correct mixture of the four elements, the medicinal use of elixirs as remedies, even as a panacea, and the Mercury-Sulphur theory in particular, as well as practical improvements in instruments, especially distillation apparatus.
From the 12th century onwards, Arab alchemy produces only commentators and compilers. The Christian West begins to absorb the greatest and momentous wave of ancient science, in the 11th century in southern Italy, especially at Salerno, and in the 12th century in Spain, notably at Toledo. This was primarily mediated by Arabic sources, and to a lesser extent, especially in southern Italy, by Greek sources. In this way alchemy came to Europe as an ars nova.
10. ALCHEMICAL LITERATURE IN THE LATIN MIDDLE AGES UNTIL THE END OF THE I2TH CENTURY
The natural philosophers of the School of Chartres, "physici" as they called themselves, sought to understand God's corporeal world in a rational manner. Both William of Conches and Adelard of Bath rebuked the ancient scientists, who had neither studied the writings of the physici, nor recognised the natural virtues (vires naturae), nor trusted heir own reason (ratio). William's critique shows that this was not a mere rationalist impulse derived from the Timaeus, but reflected a wider receptivity to new knowledge: he implied that there were still hidebound scientists who relied on the elementary doctrine of the old Timaeus (of Chalcidius), when Constantinus Africanus was now available as a source.
William of Conches therefore supplements his knowledge of the doctrine of elements, in this case the corpuscular theories, with influences from Salerno, particularly Galen's doctrine of the elements in the Liber regalis of 'Ali ibn Al-Abbas al-Magusi (Lat. Haly Abbas, d. 994), entitled Liber pantegni (The Whole Art) in the translation of Constantinus Africanus (1010-1087). His widely diffused "Philosophia mundi" offers a systematic treatment of all existence based on this corpuscular theory.
Constantinus Africanus, the first major and world-renowned translator of Greek-Arabic science into Latin, is synonymous with Salerno as the oldest university centre of Europe and the foremost centre for the reception of Arabic scientific and medical literature. This leading school of medicine cultivated a tradition of rational scientific thought united with observation and experiment in the spirit of Hippocrates and Galen. At the same time as Constantinus, Alphanus of Salerno (c. 1015-1085) translated the tract Peri physeos anthropou of Nemesios of Emesa (5th century) from Greek into Latin under the title Premnon physicon. Like Constantinus, he was concerned with establishing a corpuscular theory of matter as the basis of Western medicine, because the text offers one of the most extensive descriptions of the Platonic atomic theory in the Middle Ages. It was widely disseminated.
The networking, from the l0th century onwards, of educational centres, especially of Salerno in southern Italy with those in northern France, was flanked and eventually superseded by the reception and assimilation of translations from the Arabic at Toledo in Spain, soon extended throughout Europe.
From the end of the 12th century, Latin writers had access to the leading authors of Arab philosophy, -> al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Avicenna and al-Ghaz-ali, as well as the giants of medicine like Rhazes with his compendium Ad Almansorem and especially Avicenna's Canon medicinae. Much was introduced from other fields, including the Her-metica, superstitious material, and not least alchemy, presented as the ars nova by Robert of Chester. Alchemy therefore owes its existence in the West to this 11th-century wave of reception and assimilation. The gradual Arab-Latin translation of Aristotle's complete works was especially epoch-making.
Arab science was introduced into the West by the enormous translating activity of Gerard of Cremona (1114-1187) and his circle in Toledo. His pupils compiled a list of 71 of his translations. Among these are three alchemical titles: Jabir (Jabir ibn Hayyan), Liber divinitatis de LXX (Berthelot 1906), Pseudo-Rhazes, De aluminibus et salibus (Ruska 193 5) and Pseudo-Rhazes, Liber lumen luminum (Lippmann 1954, III, 17). In addition, there are Rhazes' "Book of Secrets" and pseudepigraphic texts like Pseudo-Avicenna's De anima in ane alkimie or the treatises on alchemy in the Secretum secretorum, the Arab encyclopaedia of Pseudo-Aristotle.
The reception of Arab alchemy in Europe commences with the same story of Morienus Romanus for the Umayyad prince Khalid, which marked the Islamic reception of Greek alchemy. Robertus Ketenensis (Robertus Castrensis), i.e. Robert of Chester (from Ketton) translated it in 1144 as Liber de compositione alchemiae and introduced in its foreword "alchymia" as a hitherto unknown art into Europe. He and his friend Hermann of Carinthia were studying alchemy while staying near the Ebro in Spain. Both men were influenced by the School of Chartres.
The number of early translations of alchemical writings from Arabic into Latin was not that great, and the well-received "Book of Alums and Salts" represents the foundation text of alchemy in the West, combining theory, allegory and practice. The Arab original was probably written in Spain in the nth or nth century. Its contents are as follows: the unknown author generally follows the line of Jabir and Rhazes, but also quotes from a poem attributed to Khalid and, not unexpectedly, appends the Mercury-Sulphur theory. However, he repeatedly reverts to his own experiments. The work is predominantly practical and treats the basic substances according to Rhazes's classification: sixteen chapters on spirits (mercury, arsenic, sulphur, sal ammoniac), forty-nine on bodies, i.e. metals (gold, silver, iron, lead, tin, copper), eight on stones and twelve on salts. This sober and objective chemical exposition is, however, mixed with the use of cover-names and esoteric, allegorical codes. In his description of mercury, for example, empirical observation initially prevails. But then analogy is invoked to conclude that the mercurial spirit penetrating another metal, which it clearly is able to tincture by giving it a different appearance, may also be able to act as an elixir by clarifying this other metal into silver ("white") and gold ("red").
This description is known as the Pure Mercury theory, already encountered among other theories of the transmutation of metals in Jabir's Liber de septuaginta. But then the language grows more obscure and a series of cover-names ensues ("water of life", "colouring herb"), as found in the Turba philosophorum, followed by a list of the properties of mercury deriving from its twofold nature. This twofold nature is conveyed by an image, entirely in the style of Ibn Umail's allegorical alchemy or the Turba philosophorum. The snake impregnating itself, giving new birth from itself, when its time has come, unites the opposites of masculine and feminine in itself and renews itself. This is an allegory of the Ouroboros symbol. The toxicity of the mercury vapours is emphasised and then an easily understood representation is given of red mercury oxide being slowly heated. A torrent of cover-names is used, as if to make the point. The ensuing allegorical dialogue between gold and mercury is traditional, as found in Jabir's "Book of Seventy". Once again, mercury is presented as the origin of all metals, even of gold, as well as its hermaphroditic nature. According to whether it is regarded as masculine or feminine, mercury should be wedded to the feminine (sister) or masculine (brother). This idea might appear to favour the Mercury-Sulphur theory rather than the Pure Mercury theory. However, as a hermaphrodite, mercury contains both principles, which can each enter into a new relationship and thus both theories can harmoniously co-exist. By means of arsenic and sulphur, mercury can thus transmute base metals into silver and gold. The introduction of alchemy to the scholarly world of Europe in the 12th and 13th century immediately provoked controversy. Alfred of Sareshel (Alfredus Anglicus) stirred up opposition against the ars nova at the turn of the nth and 13th century. He was a member of Gerard of Cremona's circle and was responsible for some of the new translations of Aristotelian writings from Arabic. In the fourth book of his translation of Aristotle's Meteorologica he added the meteorological section of Avicenna's Book of the Remedy under the title De congelatone et conglutinatione lapidum ("Concerning the Coagulation and Conglutination of Stones"), without acknowledgement. But this contains the "Sciant artifices", Avicenna's famous rejection of transmutation. With these first translations of the 12th century the entire Arab theory of alchemy together with its imagery and terminology entered the Latin West.
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To be continued...