Alchemy Alchemy There are many ways to examine the subject of alchemy, including alchemy as a source of symbolism, psychology, and mysticism. It has also been an influence on the world view of various writers, artist, and musicians. The focus of this report is alchemy as a pre-chemistry, which gave a new impulse towards the preparation of medicinal remedies and also was a major influence on today’s scientific investigations. Alchemy is an ancient art, practiced in the Middle Ages. The fundamental concept of alchemy stemmed from Aristotle’s doctrine that all things tend to reach perfection. Because other metals were thought to be less perfect than gold, it was reasonable to believe that nature created gold out of other metals found deep within the earth and that a skilled artisan could duplicate this process.

It was said that once someone was able to change, or transmute a base chemical into the perfect metal, gold, they would have achieved eternal life and salvation. In this way, alchemy turned into not only a scientific quest, but a spiritual quest as well. Although the purposes and techniques were often times ritualistic and fanciful, alchemy was in many ways the predecessor of modern science, especially the science of chemistry. The birthplace of alchemy was ancient Egypt, where, in Alexandria, it began to flourish during the Hellenistic period. Also at that time, a school of alchemy was developing in China.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

The writings of some Greek philosophers may be considered to be among the very first chemical theories, such as the theory that all things are composed of air, earth, fire, and water. Each of these were represented by different elements, such as sulfur, salt, mercury, and, ideally, gold. Other ideas held by alchemists were that each of the known elements were represented by heavenly bodies. Gold was earth’s representation of the sun, silver for the moon, mercury for the planet Mercury, copper for Venus, iron for Mars, tin for Jupiter, and lead for Saturn. The typical alchemist’s laboratory in Renaissance Europe was a dark, cluttered place that stank of smoke and mysterious chemicals. Many alchemists worked at home, in order to save money and avoid outside interference.

Some settled in the kitchen, to take advantage of the cooking fire. Others chose the attic or cellar, where late-night activity was less likely to be noticed by inquisitive neighbors. These small, makeshift laboratories were often filled with a grimy jumble of instruments, manuscripts, skulls, animal specimens, and assorted mystical objects. Most alchemists also had an alter in their lab, which was a aid they deemed necessary to the spiritual aspects of their pursuit- eternal life and unimaginable power. In these surroundings that owed more to mysticism than to science, attempts to discover the magical substance that would turn base metals into gold inadvertently laid much of the groundwork for the later discipline of applied chemistry.

Alchemists were the first to isolate a number of chemicals, from phosphorus to hydrochloric acid, and they also developed new equipment and methods for distilling fluids, assaying metals, and controlling chemical reactions. One method the alchemist helped to develop was the use of heat to start reactions. Thomas Norton, a fifteenth century alchemist wrote A perfect Master ye may call him true, that knoweth his Heates both high and lowe. The alchemist experimented with a number of furnaces, water baths, and other heating apparatus. They also refined the process of distillation and created many flasks and stills. As the world approached the late 18th century, people grew skeptical of alchemy’s mystical and astrological attempts at turning common metals into gold.

The alchemists of Europe then divided into two separate groups. One group took up the visionary, metaphysical side of the older alchemy and developed it into a practice based on imposture, necromancy, and fraud, which is the prevailing notion of alchemy today. The other group, however, devoted themselves to the scientific discovery of new compounds and reactions. These few scientists were the legitimate ancestors of modern chemistry.


Alchemy Alchemy is not just the changing of base metals into gold as most people think, although that was one of the goals people tried to achieve through alchemy. Alchemy is stemmed from astrology; both make attempts to understand mans relationship to the universe and exploit it. While astrology is concerned with the stars alchemy is concerned with the elements of nature. Alchemy also stemmed partly from metallurgy, a science that deals with the extracting of metals form ore and the combining of metals to make alloys. Today’s modern chemistry evolved from alchemy using the extended knowledge of substances and how they react with each other. There were several goals that alchemist tried to achieve but the driving cause behind it was to understand mans relation to the universe.

Alchemists of many religions believed that they could understand the will of their god or gods through understanding the world in which they lived. However many alchemists strive for more selfish goals. The most well known goal is the changing of metals to gold. Alchemists called this transmutation. They believed that metals such as gold as silver were pure and that the other base metals were impure or sick. If the base metals could be purified they would become gold, silver or some other precious metal.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

However they never succeeded We now know that changing one element in to another is impossible with out the use of a nuclear reaction, of which they had no knowledge of or any way of accidentally creating. Another popular goal of alchemy was to make the old young again and also to gain immortality. Like changing metals it is also known as transmutation and was believed to be purification. Most of the potions they concocted made people very sick and even killed. A lesser-known goal was to discover a substance that could bring about any desired change instantly. There were many myths about it and many names. Zosimos, an alchemist from 300A.D.

first proposed the idea of such as substance. He called it the tincture also called the philosopher stone later on. Many of the processes in alchemy were chemical thought they didn’t call it this. But there wasn’t much science involved in their mixing of substances; most of it relied on folklore and superstition. Many of the reactions the created used impure mixtures of chemicals that they regarded as a substance not knowing that they were using several different chemicals at once.

For many alchemists the mixing of chemicals wasn’t as important as the chanting and incantations the said while they made their potions and elixirs. In fact this lead to myth of magic and witchcraft where spells were cast using only spoken words. Many of the practices of early alchemy, which was around since 300B.C., contributed to development of magical practice. Alchemy spawned has a more credible practice than magic. That’s the science of chemistry. During the time alchemy was in use list of known substances was greatly increased and several important discoveries were made such as mineral acids.

Also allot of the procedures as tools used in chemistry came from alchemy. In the 18hundreds alchemy gave way to chemistry’s more accurate results and far more scientific methods. Scientists of the 16hundreds 17hundreds and 18hundreds brought about new ideas and changed people’s way of thinking. Alchemy was thought of as wrong and actually outlawed in many places. During the 15 hundreds and 16hundreds alchemist had a hard time practicing because many countries wouldn’t let them practice unless the worked for the sovereign of that nation. The sovereign considered them a threat, if they produced a lot of gold the sovereign’s would decrease in value however if the alchemists worked for them then they could increase their wealth. Many alchemists who didn’t work for a sovereign were often imprisoned or killed.

Technology Essays.


Alchemy, ancient art practiced especially in the Middle Ages, devoted chiefly
to discovering a substance that would transmute the more common metals into
gold or silver and to finding a means of indefinitely prolonging human life.

Although its purposes and techniques were dubious and often illusory, alchemy
was in many ways the predecessor of modern science, especially the science of

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

The birthplace of alchemy was ancient Egypt, where, in Alexandria, it began to
flourish in the Hellenistic period; simultaneously, a school of alchemy was
developing in China. The writings of some of the early Greek philosophers might
be considered to contain the first chemical theories; and the theory advanced
in the 5th century BC by Empedoclesthat all things are composed of air, earth,
fire, and waterwas influential in alchemy. The Roman emperor Caligula is said
to have instituted experiments for producing gold from orpiment, a sulfide of
arsenic, and the emperor Diocletian is said to have ordered all Egyptian works
concerning the chemistry of gold and silver to be burned in order to stop such
experiments. Zosimus the Theban (about AD 250-300) discovered that sulfuric
acid is a solvent of metals, and he liberated oxygen from the red oxide of

The fundamental concept of alchemy stemmed from the Aristotelian doctrine that
all things tend to reach perfection. Because other metals were thought to be
less “perfect” than gold, it was reasonable to assume that nature formed gold
out of other metals deep within the earth and that with sufficient skill and
diligence an artisan could duplicate this process in the workshop. Efforts
toward this goal were empirical and practical at first, but by the 4th century
AD, astrology, magic, and ritual had begun to gain prominence.

A school of pharmacy flourished in Arabia during the caliphates of the Abbasids
from 750 to 1258. The earliest known work of this school is the Summa
Perfectionis (Summit of Perfection), attributed to the Arabian scientist and
philosopher Geber; the work is consequently the oldest book on chemistry proper
in the world and is a collection of all that was then known and believed. The
Arabian alchemists worked with gold and mercury, arsenic and sulfur, and salts
and acids, and they became familiar with a wide range of what are now called
chemical reagents. They believed that metals are compound bodies, made up of
mercury and sulfur in different proportions. Their scientific creed was the
potentiality of transmutation, and their methods were mostly blind gropings;
yet, in this way, they found many new substances and invented many useful

>From the Arabs, alchemy generally found its way through Spain into Europe. The
earliest authentic works extant on European alchemy are those of the English
monk Roger Bacon and the German philosopher Albertus Magnus; both believed in
the possibility of transmuting inferior metals into gold. This idea excited the
imagination, and later the avarice, of many persons during the Middle Ages.

They believed gold to be the perfect metal and that baser metals were more
imperfect than gold. Thus, they sought to fabricate or discover a substance,
the so-called philosopher’s stone, so much more perfect than gold that it could
be used to bring the baser metals up to the perfection of gold.

Roger Bacon believed that gold dissolved in aqua regia was the elixir of life.

Albertus Magnus had a great mastery of the practical chemistry of his time. The
Italian Scholastic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catalan churchman
Raymond Lully, and the Benedictine monk Basil Valentine (flourished 15th
century) also did much to further the progress of chemistry, although along
alchemical lines, in discovering the uses of antimony, the manufacture of
amalgams, and the isolation of spirits of wine, or ethyl alcohol.

Important compilations of recipes and techniques in this period include The
Pirotechnia (1540; trans. 1943), by the Italian metallurgist Vannoccio
Biringuccio; Concerning Metals (1556; trans. 1912), by the German mineralogist
Georgius Agricola; and Alchemia (1597), by Andreas Libavius, a German
naturalist and chemist.

Most famous of all was the 16th-century Swiss alchemist Philippus Paracelsus.

Paracelsus held that the elements of compound bodies were salt, sulfur, and
mercury, representing, respectively, earth, air, and water; fire he regarded as
imponderable, or nonmaterial. He believed, however, in the existence of one
undiscovered element common to all, of which the four elements of the ancients
were merely derivative forms. This prime element of creation Paracelsus termed
alkahest, and he maintained that if it were found, it would prove to be the
philosopher’s stone, the universal medicine, and the irresistible solvent.

After Paracelsus, the alchemists of Europe became divided into two groups. One
group was composed of those who earnestly devoted themselves to the scientific
discovery of new compounds and reactions; these scientists were the legitimate
ancestors of modern chemistry as ushered in by the work of the French chemist
Antoine Lavoisier. The other group took up the visionary, metaphysical side of
the older alchemy and developed it into a practice based on imposture,
necromancy, and fraud, from which the prevailing notion of alchemy is derived.

“Alchemy,” Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation.

Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall’s Corporation.


I'm Lydia!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out