The Alchemical Art of Dyeing: The Fourfold Division of Alchemy and the Enochian Tradition

Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 37)


What is Graeco-Egyptian alchemy? Which kinds of techniques and craft practices does it encompass? And what were its goals? The paper addresses these questions by investigating the earliest Greek alchemical texts preserved both in Byzantine and in Syriac manuscripts. Already during the first centuries AD, in the Graeco-Roman Egypt it is possible to recognize some disagreement over the definition of alchemy and its expected outcomes. On the one hand, ps.-Democritus’s four books and the Leiden and Stockholm papyri support a fourfold division of alchemy including processes for making gold, silver, and precious stones (glass working included), and for dyeing wool purple. On the other hand, Isis’s treatise focuses only on the making of precious metals, which is identified with the main goal of alchemy during the late Byzantine tradition. In the process that led to such a simplification of the technical background of alchemy Zosimus’s work seems to represent an important turning point. In fact the author inherited the above mentioned polarity and discussed different ideas of alchemy in a key text (here edited and translated into English for the first time) on the revelation of alchemy based on the Enochian myth of the fallen angels.


Precious Metal Lightning Strike Greek Version Greek Text Precious Stone 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ClassicsHumboldt Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany

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