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Roger Bacon and the Incorruptible Human, 1220-1292

Alchemy, Pharmacology and the Desire to Prolong Life

Palgrave Macmillan


  • Contributes to medieval medical research by exploring a remarkable figure within the history of alchemy

  • Frames Bacon’s understanding of natural philosophy within the cultural milieu in which he was writing

  • Includes three appendices, including a comprehensive list of Bacon’s works on medicine and alchemy

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Medicine (PSMEMM)

About this book

This book examines Roger Bacon’s alchemical theories, and explains how he believed that the key to extending life lay not in the curricula as taught in the medical faculties of the universities, but in the study of alchemy. Though twelfth- and thirteenth-century alchemy was generally concerned with the transmutation of metals, Bacon’s alchemy was a much larger area of study, and encompassed the generation and corruption of all material things in the sublunary world. It was this aspect of alchemy, which Bacon referred to as speculative alchemy, that explained how the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth interacted with each other to make the basis of reality as man could know it. Thus, the study of alchemy in conjunction with humoral medicine could explain not only how the human body worked, but how it interacted with the materials around it, illuminating the method of prolonging life to extreme lengths. 


  • Alchemy
  • History of alchemy
  • Medieval medical writings
  • Roger Bacon
  • Franciscan
  • History of religion
  • Thirteenth century
  • Humoral medicine
  • Incorruptible human
  • Prolonging life
  • History of disease
  • History of ageing
  • Natural philosophy


​"This is a very comprehensive and careful study of the Medical Writings of Roger Bacon. This study for the first time fills a major lacuna in the scholarship on the history of medieval medical writings."
Jeremiah Hackett, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, University of South Carolina

"Roger Bacon is a remarkable figure of perennial interest to a wide range of readers. Allen’s book provides a fresh and comprehensive view of Bacon’s endeavor to reextend human lifespans to those of the Biblical patriarchs by means a new approach to medicine based in alchemy, experimental observation, and Franciscan spirituality and theology. This book represents an important and new contribution to scholarship".
Lawrence M. Principe, Johns Hopkins University 

Authors and Affiliations

  • Science History Institute, Philadelphia, USA

    Meagan S. Allen

About the author

​Meagan S. Allen is the 2021-2023 Cain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, PA. She has previously held a visiting fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and a Huntington Exchange Fellowship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Bibliographic Information