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date: 23 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter re-examines the historiography of Greco-Egyptian alchemy. The author challenges the representation of alchemy as a superficial amalgam (or “syncretism”) of Greek philosophical theories. He argues for an indigenous Egyptian development of the art, rooted distantly in the artisanal traditions of the temples, and stresses the originality of alchemical matter theory, which drew creatively on Greek philosophical (especially Aristotelian) concepts. The alchemists were also innovative technicians, developing new methods and apparatus in pursuit of the goal of transmutation. These theoretical and technical innovations contradict the commonplace image of alchemy as an irrational pseudo-science. The esotericism of alchemy, far from undermining its rational development, served to stimulate research, since the secrets of the ancient masters could only be decoded in the light of laboratory experience. Alchemy does not provide evidence for a (supposed) decline into mystical obscurantism in the late ancient world.

Keywords: Bolus of Mendes, Pseudo-Democritus, Zosimus of Panopolis, Alchemy, Hermes Trismegistus, Transmutation, kerotakis, Maria

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