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The Art and (Proto)Science of Alchemy

Medieval Alchemy

Medieval Alchemy

Alchemy in the Middle Ages was a mixture of science, philosophy, and mysticism. Alchemists approached their craft, believing that purity of mind, body, and spirit was necessary.

Medieval alchemy was centered around the idea that all matter was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. They theorized that the right combination could produce any substance on earth.

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The Art and (Proto)Science of Alchemy

The Art and (Proto)Science of Alchemy

https://www.thoughtco.com/alchemy-in-the-middle-ages-1788253

thoughtco.com

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Key Ideas

Origins and History of Alchemy

  • Alchemy emerged independently in China, India, and Greece, but degenerated into superstition. It drifted to Egypt and survived as a scholarly discipline.
  • In the 12th century, it was revived in Europe when scholars translated Arabic works into Latin.
  • By the end of the 13th century, philosophers, scientists, and theologians started discussing is more seriously.

The Goals of Medieval Alchemists

  • To discover the relationship of man to the cosmos.
  • To find the ingredient to make an elixir of immortality and transform common substances into gold.
  • Late in the Middle Ages, to use alchemy as a tool in the progress of medicine.

Achievements of Alchemists in the Middle Ages

  • Medieval alchemists made hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, potash, and sodium carbonate.
  • They identified the elements arsenic, antimony, and bismuth.
  • They invented and developed laboratories that are still used today in a modified form.
  • The practice of alchemy laid the foundation for further development of chemistry as a scientific discipline.

Disreputable Associations of Alchemy

  • Due to the secrecy of alchemists, the Catholic Church viewed alchemy with suspicion and ultimately condemned it.
  • Alchemy was never taught in Universities but passed on from teacher to apprentice or student.
  • Followers of the occult were attracted to alchemy.
  • Alchemy was used to defraud people.

Famous Medieval Alchemists

  • Thomas Aquinas, a theologian, studied alchemy before it was condemned by the Church.
  • Roger Bacon was the first European to describe how to make gunpowder.
  • Paracelsus used his knowledge of chemical processes to benefit the science of medicine.

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