History of Alchemy

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#1
Some beautiful images at the link.

Medicinal Alchemy, circa 1512
http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/58021/
By Cristina Luiggi

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During the Middle Ages, alchemists developed sophisticated ways to tap the medicinal powers of the Earth’s bounty. Depending on the ailment being treated, flowers, herbs, spices, minerals, and animal flesh all potentially held cures, which could be extracted employing methods not unlike those used by modern organic chemists and pharmacologists. Liber de Arte Distillandi, published in present day Strasbourg, France, in 1512, is a compilation of centuries of knowledge intended by its author, German surgeon Hieronymus Brunschwig, to serve as a layman’s guide to the preparation of these natural medicines.


Liber de Arte Distillandi was a practical manual for medicinal and alchemical distillation by German physician Hieronymous Brunschwig.
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

With detailed instructions, ranging from the right times to collect herbs to the exact specifications for constructing distillation equipment, Brunschwig hoped to make medicinal alchemy accessible to “the common people that dwell far from medicines and physicians and for them that not be able to pay for costly medicines,” he wrote. Most of the equipment he described, such as funnels, round-bottom flasks, and the iron rings to hold them in place, can still be found in chemistry labs today.


Medieval alchemists greatly advanced the ancient technique of distillation, which separates components in a mixture by taking advantage of different boiling points. They constructed complex apparatuses to distill what they considered to be the ultimate cures—strong alcoholic concoctions typically infused with herbs and spices, among other things (such as horse dung), and collectively known as aqua vitae, or “water of life.”


The “wound man” is a common motif in medieval medical texts, meant to instruct surgeons on how to deal with a variety of injuries. In Liber de Arte Distillandi, Brunschwig couples the illustration with a list of distillates to be applied to the wounds depicted. The success of these remedies, however, was hit or miss. While some of the associations between specific plant extracts and conditions were based on centuries of tried-and-true observations, others were made using faulty logic. For example, it was thought that if a plant resembles a particular organ, it could be used to treat it.
Edit to amend title.
 

JamesWhitehead

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IIRC horse-dung was used by alchemists as a source of heat and stayed on the outside of the glass! Mind you, having tasted a few infusions which claim to have ancient medicinal roots, it might well be an ingredient! :?
 
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Another interesting (sounding) book on Alchemy.

The true story of alchemy
http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/cultu ... .html17:09 13 November 2012
Books

William H. Brock, contributor

The historian Herbert Butterfield once dismissed writers on alchemy as being "tinctured with the kind of lunacy they set out to describe". There is no danger of that slur being cast at Lawrence Principe for his new book, The Secrets of Alchemy.

A historian of science and practising chemist, Principe provides a dazzling account of how scholarly opinion on the relationship between alchemy and chemistry has transformed in the last four decades. In the process he brings chemical knowledge and historical detective work to a subject that has too readily been dismissed as fraudulent nonsense.

The first part of his book takes us swiftly from the origins of alchemy among Graeco-Egyptian artisans, its further development among the Arabs, and then its flowering in medieval Europe as practitioners sought to prepare elixirs and medicinal compounds.

Principe then jumps to a fascinating explanation of alchemy's decline and rejection during the 18th-century Enlightenment. It was only at this point, at the pinnacle of a chemical revolution linked to the French nobleman and chemist Antoine Lavoisier, that alchemy took on the restricted meaning of turning base metals into gold; before then, alchemy and chemistry had been virtually interchangeable.

To avoid this misconception, Principe refers to chemistry prior to Lavoisier as "chymistry", underlining the fact that while its practitioners held a worldview quite different from those of modern chemists, their practical activities are not so different from those used today. He argues that the reinterpretation of alchemy as a metaphor for spiritual transmutation, by 19th and 20th-century occultists including Carl Jung, was both erroneous and unfortunate. It was this faulty reading of alchemy, Principe contends, that led uncritical historians to deny any historical continuity between chymistry and modern chemistry.

Finally, he returns to the pre-Enlightenment era, when gold-making was but one of the many activities of practical chymists. In the two striking final chapters he shows how obscure alchemical texts - with their extraordinary illustrations and multiple hidden names for common substances - can be read like cryptic puzzles.

By reproducing alchemical recipes in a modern laboratory, Principe reveals the accurate accounts of physical and chemical changes they contain. His book includes coloured plates of his intriguing results. For example, he demonstrates that well-known chymical practitioners such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton understood the rule of conservation of mass and framed their findings in terms of matter having a particulate structure.

The book wears its scholarship lightly and is a pleasure to read. Its fundamental message is that, although transmutation of base metals into gold was fanciful, alchemists' accounts of the real chemical changes they witnessed were far from imaginary.

Book information
The Secrets of Alchemy by Lawrence M. Principe
University of Chicago Press
£16/$25
 

Bloodbeard

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I am writing a paper on Ben Jonson's 'The Alchemist', critical opinion considers the playwright to be hostile towards the practice. Jonson certainly immersed himself in alchemical texts as can be seen in the discussions within the play about the matter. A question I have is what is the significance of the date? The plot unfolds over roughly a two hour period, at a house in Blackfriars the date of the action is revealed within the play as 1 Novemeber 1610. The date of first performance was intended to also be around this time, (also in Blackfriars) but was postponed due to an outbreak of the plague in London. Any suggestions?
 

kamalktk

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Bloodbeard said:
I am writing a paper on Ben Jonson's 'The Alchemist', critical opinion considers the playwright to be hostile towards the practice. Jonson certainly immersed himself in alchemical texts as can be seen in the discussions within the play about the matter. A question I have is what is the significance of the date? The plot unfolds over roughly a two hour period, at a house in Blackfriars the date of the action is revealed within the play as 1 Novemeber 1610. The date of first performance was intended to also be around this time, (also in Blackfriars) but was postponed due to an outbreak of the plague in London. Any suggestions?
November 1 is All Hallows Day/All Saints Day.
 

Bloodbeard

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Yes it is, this however bears no relation to the play, I think there is a more carnivalesque connection, feast of fools, celebration of the trickster or somesuch.There is nothing in the play to indicate the traditional associations of all souls day. I have vague memories of the massacre of the innocents being commemorated on this date but nothing definite, thanks for the interest though.
 
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Theatrical presentations were often part and parcel of the celebration of public holy days. May be that Jonson wrote this one specifically for a first performance on, or about, All Hallows.
 

Bloodbeard

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Hmmm, obviously it's a possibility but is All Souls not a bit Catholic for London in 1610? My thinking is that it's the fundamental action that relates to the date, the conning of the gullible, the religious the vain and the plain greedy, classic trickster behaviour. The 'gulls' are from quite a wide cross section of society and the only religious figures in the play, the Anabatists are portrayed as hypocritical megalomaniacs.
 
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According to the Wikipedia entry for The Alchemist, it was one of the first plays to be performed at the 'winter playhouse' of, The King's Players (with Jonson in charge), in Blackfriars, having apparently been first performed in Oxford, earlier in the year. The King's Players subsequently performed it for the King.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Alchemist_(play)

...

The venue for which Jonson apparently wrote his play reflects this newly solid acceptance of theatre as a fact of city life. In 1597, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (aka the King's Men) had been denied permission to use the theatre in Blackfriars as a winter playhouse because of objections from the neighborhood's influential residents. Some time between 1608 and 1610, the company, now the King's Men, reassumed control of the playhouse, this time without objections. Their delayed premiere on this stage within the city walls, along with royal patronage, marks the ascendance of this company in the London play-world (Gurr, 171). The Alchemist was among the first plays chosen for performance at the theatre.

...
So, although the new puritan morality may have been encroaching in other areas, for the time being, theatre had never had it so good.

More interesting is how much importance Jonson gave to setting the play in a contemporary setting. It's not set in some far distant past, or mythical wood, it's set in the contemporary London of Jonson's time, at the end of the recent plague epidemic, very much in the here and now, even setting it in Blackfriars, where the play itself was probably being performed. Jonson may have adapted dates and settings according to when and where the play was actually performed, but the First of November date and setting it in Blackfriars may have had a special significance both for Jonson and for the King's Players, in their new winter quarters.

see, Ben Jonson: A life, Ian Donaldson, OUP, Chp. 3, pgs 245-246.

Jonson's young daughter died at six months, in November 1593 and his eldest son died of the plague at the age of seven in 1603 and Jonson was moved enough to write short commemorative poems.

http://www.studymode.com/essays/On-My-First-Daughter-And-On-1227631.html

On my First Daughter

Here lies, to each her parents’ ruth,
Mary, the daughter of their youth;
Yet all heaven’s gifts being heaven’s due,
It makes the father less to rue.
At six months’ end she parted hence
With safety of her innocence;
Whose soul heaven’s queen, whose name she bears,
In comfort of her mother’s tears,
Hath placed amongst her virgin-train:
Where, while that severed doth remain,
This grave partakes the fleshly birth;
Which cover lightly, gentle earth!


On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.
Perhaps, setting the play on All Saints, at the end of a plague outbreak, was also a way of commemorating the dead and looking to the future? Very much a traditional take on All hallows Eve and All Saints. Also, one of the playwright's plays celebrating the City of London, which the urbanite Jonson loved and defended many times. See, The Rise and Fall of Merry England, Ronald Hutton, OUP Chp.5 pgs 166 -167, all wrapped up with a heavy dose of satire, warning of Man's greed and gullibility, but still ultimately optimistic for the possibilities of London's citizen's to live and mix together. Turning the base metal of rogues, scallywags and fools into the gold of a modern urban citizenry.
 
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It's also worth noting that Jonson seems to have converted to Roman Catholicism in 1597, whilst in prison for killing someone in a duel, at some great personal risk to himself and only converted back to Anglicanism in 1610, apparently quite reluctantly. He even made his way to Paris in 1612 to attend a debate about the nature of the Eucharist.

See: Ben Jonson: Catholic Poet Robert S. Minolas
http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/renref/article/viewFile/8740/5707

All Saints Day, the 1st of November 1610, would have fallen on a Monday, In England this seems to mean that the Catholic obligation to attend Mass would have have fallen on the adjacent Sunday. Perhaps, after the recent plague epidemic, thoughts of saints and sinners, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. weren't too far away from Jonson's thoughts, when it came to staging the play?
 
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The obligatory solemn Mass of All Saints, or All Hallows, was, amongst other things, intended to pray for the souls of the dead in Purgatory. Isn't that the purpose of the fires of Purgatory? To purify those who have died in a state of grace of their sins and transform them into pure souls worthy of Salvation and the Beatific Vision of Heaven. Very much one of the metaphysical roots of the theory of alchemical transmutation.

http://www.levity.com/alchemy/glauber_purgatorio.html

;)
 

JamesWhitehead

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Cloning, the Golem and the alchemical goal of creating a homunculus are among the arcane matters addressed in Artificial Men: Alchemy, Transubstantiation and the Homunculus by Mary Baine Campbell.

Not an easy read but it explores some wonderfully strange regions, suggesting that the quest for perfecting the little man was a means of circumventing the unpredictable otherness of male-female reproduction.

edit: Reworded and expanded. Removed reference to the Mandrake, which is not mentioned in the article.
 

AlchoPwn

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#19
IIRC horse-dung was used by alchemists as a source of heat and stayed on the outside of the glass! Mind you, having tasted a few infusions which claim to have ancient medicinal roots, it might well be an ingredient! :?
Horse dung was actually used as a thermometer by Alchemists. It is a little known fact that the size of a pile of horse dung is regulated by its temperature.

As for FIN S.I
Regard it as a typographical error at thy peril.
That is no mistake either. Sry Ramonmercado, you have to be outed.
 
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Horse dung was actually used as a thermometer by Alchemists. It is a little known fact that the size of a pile of horse dung is regulated by its temperature.

As for FIN S.I
Regard it as a typographical error at thy peril.

That is no mistake either. Sry Ramonmercado, you have to be outed.
It was meant for the likes of Thee! Don't expose our secrets to the profane!
 
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