Viano, Cristina - Greco-egyptian alchemy.pdf

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  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/13506116/WORKINGFOLDER/JONETA/ 9780521571623C24.3D  468  [468–482] 23.6.20188:43PM 24 GRECO-EGYPTIAN ALCHEMY  Cristina Viano 1 ORIGINS, IDENTITY, ETYMOLOGY, AND HISTORIOGRAPHY  Alchemy came into being out of the meeting of Greek and Egyptian culturethat occurred at Alexandria in the  󿬁 rst centuries of the Common Era. 2 It developed between the  󿬁 rst and seventh centuries as the theory andpractice of transmuting noble metals in Greco-Roman Egypt. Thence it was transmitted to the Byzantine world, where it was preserved by a generation of commentators, and then to the Arabic world, which gaveit a more systematic and experimental orientation. In the western medieval world, Alexandrian alchemy was known only indirectly, through the 󿬁 lter of translations and compilations produced by Arabic alchemists. The corpus of Greek alchemists was rediscovered and reintroduced in Renaissance Italy,butoutsideofasmallcircleofscholarsitwasnotdisseminatedwidelyamong humanists and adepts. 3 Greco-Alexandrian alchemists saw the srcins of their art in PharaonicEgypt, a thesis which most historians have accepted. Links withMesopotamian, Indian, and Chinese alchemy have also been assumed. 4  However, besides some similarities in themes or processes, there is at this 1 I wish to thank Marc Aucouturier, Michèle Mertens, and Matteo Martelli fortheir extremely helpfulcomments and bibliographical suggestions. The editors warmly thank Laurence Totelin for hertranslation of this chapter. 2 See A. J. Festugière,  La révélation d  ’   Hermès Trismégiste, vol.  1  : L ’    Astrologie et les sciences occultes   (Paris:Lecoffre,  1944 ), p.  218 :  “ L ’ alchimie gréco-égyptienne, d ’ où ont dérivé toutes les autres, est née de la rencontre d ’ un fait et d ’ une doctrine. Le fait est la pratique, traditionnelle en Egypte, des arts del ’ orfèvrerie. La doctrine est un mélange de philosophie grecque, empruntée surtout à Platon et à  Aristote, et de rêveries mystiques. ” 3 For an overview of alchemy from its srcins to the modern period, see M. Pereira,  Arcana sapienza:L ’    Alchimia dalle srcini a Jung  (Rome: Carocci, 2001 )and M.Pereira,  Alchimia: I testi della tradizione occidentale   (Milan: A. Mondadori,  2006 ). On the dissemination of Greek alchemy during theRenaissance, see S. Matton,  “ L ’ In 󿬂 uence de l ’ humanisme sur la tradition alchimique, ”  Micrologus  3  ( 1995 ),  279 – 345 . 4  On the question of srcins, see H. J. Sheppard,  “  Alchemy: Origin or Origins?, ”  Ambix   17  ( 1970 ), 69 – 84 ; P. T. Keyser,  “  Alchemy in the Ancient World: From Science to Magic, ”  Illinois Classical  468  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/13506116/WORKINGFOLDER/JONETA/ 9780521571623C24.3D  469  [468–482] 23.6.20188:43PM point no concrete or decisive proof of such connections. Indeed, Greco- Alexandrian alchemy is a distinctive, complex, and unique phenomenon  –  itis very different, for instance, in its aims and methods from magic. Alchemists de 󿬁 ne themselves as  “ philosophers. ”  Plato and Aristotle appearatop lists of old masters of the art; some alchemists are referred to as “ exegetes of Plato and Aristotle. ” The origin ofthe word “ alchemy  ” is obscure. The useof the word chêmeia  and its cognates is rare in the writings of Greek alchemists; instead they referto their discipline with the phrase  “ divine and sacred art. ” 5 The Latin noun alchimia  , which only appears in the twelfth century, is in fact composed of the Arabic article  al   and a root whose meaning is disputed. Greek alchemistsmention Chymes, sometimes considered as the author of a book entitled Chemeu. Chêmeia   has also been thought to derive from  cheô  (to melt); from chumos   (sap extracted from plants); from the old name of Egypt, which is chêmia   in Plutarch and KHME or XHMI in Coptic (that is,  “ black earth ” );and from the Egyptian root  km , which means  “ to achieve. ”  Some evenbelieve that  “ black  ”  was an allusion to the  󿬁 rst step of transmutation ( “ theblack art ” ). 6 The works of the chemist Marcellin Berthelot ( 1827 – 1907 ) gave rise to aninterestinGreekalchemyamongstmodernscholars. Les srcines de l  ’   alchimie  ( 1885 ) and the  Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs   ( 1888 – 9 ) (=  CAAG  ),published in collaboration with the Hellenist Charles-Emile Ruelle, arecharacterized by their rationalist historical approach. Berthelot found inancient alchemy the srcins of the experimental method and saw it as theprecursor to modern chemistry. The  Collection  has been criticized for itsrather poor philological rigor, but it should be given due credit for dissemi-nating these texts and stimulating scholarly interest. Between  1924  and  1932 ,the eight volumes of the  Catalogue des manuscrits alchimiques grecs   (= CMAG  ) were published, in preparation for a new, more complete andrigorous textual edition. Such an enterprise was at last launched in  1981  atParis, with the Belles Lettres series,  Les alchimistes grecs  . 7 Studies   15  ( 1990 ),  353 – 72 . On Chinese alchemy, see J. Needham,  Science and Civilisation in China,vol.  5  : Chemistry and Chemical Technology   (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  1974 ), part.  2 . 5 The variants  chêmeia, chêmia, chumeia, chumia   are found in late Greek, especially in the works of Byzantine chroniclers. See, for instance, the Byzantine lexicon  Souda   (tenth century), which de 󿬁 nes chêmeia   as the  “ art of preparing silver and gold. ” 6 For the meanings of the word  “ alchemy, ”  see J. Lindsay,  The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-RomanEgypt   (London: Muller,  1970 ), pp.  68 – 89 ; R. Halleux,  Les textes alchimiques   (Turnhout: Brepols, 1979 ),pp. 45 – 6 ;D.Bain, “  Melanitis gê  .AnUnnoticed GreekNameforEgypt:New EvidencefortheOrigins and Etymology of Alchemy, ”  in D. R. Jordan, H. Montgomery, and E. Thomassen (eds.), The World of Ancient Magic   (Bergen: Norwegian Institute at Athens,  1999 ), pp.  221 – 2 . 7 The collection currently comprises four volumes: R. Halleux (ed.),  Les alchimistes grecs, vol.  1  :Papyrus de Leyde, papyrus de Stockholm, recettes   (Paris: Belles Lettres,  1981 ); M. Mertens (ed.),  Les alchimistes grecs, vol.  4 : Zosime de Panopolis, mémoires authentiques   (Paris: Belles Lettres,  1995 ); A. Destrait-Colinet (ed.),  Les alchimistes grecs, vol.  10 : Anonyme de Zuretti   (Paris: Belles Lettres, 2000 ); A. Destrait-Colinet (ed.),  Les alchimistes grecs, vol.  11  : Recettes alchimiques (Par. Gr.  2419 ;Holkhamicus   109  ) Cosmas le Hiéromoine   –   Chrysopée   (Paris: Belles Lettres,  2010 ). Greco-Egyptian Alchemy   469  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/13506116/WORKINGFOLDER/JONETA/ 9780521571623C24.3D  470  [468–482] 23.6.20188:43PM Beside the historical and scholarly approach, which aims at a generaloverview based on textual criticism and the contextualization of alchemicalauthors, there are other approaches that focus on particular aspects, such as,for instance, psychology and cultural anthropology. Carl Gustav Jung interprets Zosimus ’  (the most signi 󿬁 cant  󿬁 gure in the history of Greco-Egyptian alchemy)  Visions   as subconscious archetypes. 8 Mircea Eliade com-pares the myths and rituals of alchemists with the symbols that characterizearchaic societies. 9 Paradoxically, these erudite interpretations have tended toemphasize the irrational and mystical aspects of alchemy. They have alsopromoted the easiest, and also the least rigorous, approach to alchemy, thatis, modern hermeticism, which studies alchemy in a completely non-criticalmanner as a revelation inherited from ancient civilizations and transmittedthrough initiation.In this chapter, we will start with an introduction to the sources of ourknowledge of Greek alchemy (the papyri, the manuscripts, the testimonies within and without the alchemical corpus), and to the alchemical authorsand their texts. We shall then deal with practical aspects of alchemy, such asingredients, processes, and apparatus, and with alchemical theory, its links with Greek philosophy, as well as its esoteric features. We shall conclude by presenting some methodological directions for future research, which arebased on interdisciplinary collaboration.SOURCES: PAPYRI, MANUSCRIPTS, TESTIMONIESOur sources for Greek alchemy essentially consist of the manuscript tradi-tion and the testimonies given by alchemists themselves; ancient testimoniesexternal to the alchemical corpus are extremely rare.The writings of Greco-Egyptian alchemists have been transmitted to usby means of two compilations on papyrus dating to the third and fourthcenturies  ce,  now respectively at Leiden and Stockholm, and by a largecorpus produced in the Byzantine period, which is preserved in multiplemanuscripts. Considered the most important and most beautiful of thesemanuscripts by most scholars, the  Marcianus Graecus   ( “  Marc. Graec. ” )  299 (tenth or eleventh century) belonged to the library of Cardinal Bessarion( 󿬁 fteenth century). 10  Alchemical literature is in essence fragmentary, constituted of extracts, of collections of quotations, of commentaries and of précis composed by  8 See, for instance, C. G. Jung,  “ Einige Bemerkungen zu den Visionen des Zosimos, ”  Eranos- Jahrbuch  5  ( 1937 ),  15 – 54 . 9 M. Eliade,  Forgerons et alchimistes   (Paris: Flammarion,  1956 ). On the different approaches toalchemy, see Halleux,  Textes alchimiques  , pp.  50 – 8 . 10 See H.-D. Saffrey,  “ Historique et description du Marcianus  299 , ”  in D. Kahn and S. Matton (eds.),  Alchimie: art, histoire et mythes   (Paris: SEHA,  1995 ), pp.  1 – 10 . 470  Cristina Viano  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/13506116/WORKINGFOLDER/JONETA/ 9780521571623C24.3D  471  [468–482] 23.6.20188:43PM compilators. Interpolations and additions by copyists, for the most partspecialists who did not hesitate to intervene in the texts to make commentsortocorrectthem,arenumerous.TheGreekofthesetextsisoftenincorrect,andthevocabularyrelatingtosubstancesandtransformationsisstill,ingreatpart, in need of deciphering. As for external testimonies, it is only in the  󿬁 fth century that Proclus and Aeneas of Gaza started to refer to alchemy as a contemporary practice,aiming at producing gold from other metals. 11 Byzantine chroniclers men-tion the destruction of the books  “ concerning the chemistry [ chemeia  ] of gold and silver, ”  ordered by Diocletian in order to deprive the Egyptians of a source of wealth and thus prevent them from competing with theRomans. 12 This testimony is particularly interesting because it shows thatin the third century   ce,  alchemical practice must have been important andsuf  󿬁 ciently recognized for the Romans to seek the destruction of its books.TEXTS AND AUTHORS OF THE ALCHEMICAL CORPUSGreek alchemical literature is divided into three periods, according toa chronological development. 13 The  󿬁 rst period includes the chemicalrecipes from the  Phusika kai mustika  , attributed to pseudo-Democritus( 󿬁 rst to third century   ce ), who is not the philosopher from Abdera and who has been associated with a certain Bolos of Mendes, 14  as well as theanonymous papyri of Leiden and Stockholm (ca. third to fourth centuries ce ). The recipes deal with imitating gold, silver, precious gemstones, andpurple. Within these recipes the principles of a fundamental unity of matterand of sympathetic relationships between substances are expressed, throughthe famous formula frequently repeated in the alchemical corpus,  “ nature isdelighted by nature, nature conquers nature, nature masters nature ”  ( hê  phusis tê phusei terpetai, kai hê phusis tên phusin nika kai hê phusis tên phusinkratei  ). In these recipes the model for producing gold appears to be that of imitation ( mimêsis  ) through coloring, which acts upon the external proper-ties of bodies. This notion of imitation is the cornerstone of the ancientconception of the alchemical technique and is a precursor to the idea of transmutation. To this period also belongs a series of quotations or short 11 Proclus,  In Platonis rem publicam ,  2 . 234 . 14 – 22 ; Aeneas of Gaza,  Theophrastus  ,  71 , edited by Caspar Barth (Leipzig: Johannes Bauerus,  1655 ). 12  John of Antioch, frag.  165 ; Carl Müller,  Fragmenta historicorum graecorum ,  5  vols. (Paris: A. FirminDidot,  1868 ), vol.  4 ;  Suda, Delta   1156  s.v.  Diokletianos; Khi  ,  280 , s.v.  chêmeia  . 13 See H.-D. Saffrey,  “ Introduction, ”  in Halleux (ed.), Les alchimistes grecs, vol.  1 , xii. 14  See M. Wellmann,  Die Physika des Bolos Demokritos und der Magier Anaxilaos aus Larissa, Teil   1  (Abhandlungen derPrussischen Akademieder Wissenschaften,Philosophisch-Historische Klasse  7 ;Berlin: De Gruyter,  1928 ); Halleux (ed.),  Les alchimistes grecs  , vol.  1 ; P. Gaillard-Seux,  “ Un pseudo-Démocrite énigmatique: Bolos de Mendès, ”  in F. Le Blay (ed.),  Transmettre les savoirs dans les mondes hellénistique et romain  (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes,  2009 ), pp.  223 – 43 . Greco-Egyptian Alchemy   471
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