Byzantine Alchemy, or the Era of Systematization

Cristina Viano

in Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World

Published in print August 2018 | ISBN: 9780199734146
Published online July 2018 | e-ISBN: 9780199984657 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Byzantine Alchemy, or the Era of Systematization

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The chapter shows how the texts of early Byzantine alchemy transformed the alchemical tradition. This period is characterized by a generation of “commentators” tied to the Neoplatonic milieu. Their writings, designed primarily to clarify the ideas of the previous generations, represent the most advanced stage of ancient alchemical theory. In the fifth century, authors external to alchemy explicitly speak of alchemy as a contemporary practice to produce gold from other metals. Around the seventh century, the corpus of alchemical texts began to be assembled as an anthology of extracts. The object of the research was agents of transformations of matter. The cause of the transformation is an active principle that acts by dissolution: “divine water” (or sulfur water), mercury, “chrysocolla” (gold solder), or raw sulfur. Mercury is at once the dyeing agent and the prime metallic matter, understood as the common substrate of the transformations and the principle of liquidity.

Keywords: Aristotle; Heliodorus; mercury; Olympiodorus; Stephanus; Synesius; transmutation; Zosimus

Article.  10458 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies

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