The Magic of Alchemy
During the medieval period, alchemy became a popular practice in Europe. Although it had been around for a long time, the fifteenth century saw a boom in alchemical methods, in which practitioners attempted to turn lead and other base metals into gold.
The Early Days of Alchemy
Alchemical practices have been documented as far back as ancient Egypt and China, and interestingly enough, it evolved around the same time in both places, independently of each other.
According to the Lloyd Library, “In Egypt, alchemy is tied in with the fertility of the Nile River basin, fertility being referred to as Khem. By at least the 4th century BCE, there was a basic practice of alchemy in place, probably related to mummification procedures and connected strongly with ideas of life after death… Alchemy in China was the brainchild of Taoist monks, and as such is wrapped up in Taoist beliefs and practice.
The founder of Chinese alchemy is considered to be Wei Po-Yang. In its earliest practice the Chinese aim was always to discover the elixir of life, not to transmute base metals into gold. Therefore, there was always a closer connection to medicine in China.”
Around the ninth century, Muslim scholars like Jabir ibn Hayyan began to experiment with alchemy, in the hopes of creating gold, the perfect metal. Known in the West as Geber, ibn Hayyan looked alchemy in the context of natural science and medicine. Although he never did manage to turn any base metals into gold, Geber was able to discover some pretty impressive methods of refining metals by extracting their impurities. His work led to developments in the creation of gold ink for illuminated manuscripts, and the creation of new glassmaking techniques.
While he wasn’t a terribly successful alchemist, Geber was very gifted as a chemist.
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