Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

Alchemy in the Latin World

  • Sébastien Moureau
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_22-2


Alchemy, originally an attempt to find a process to transmute base metals (such as lead and copper) into gold or silver, may be considered a metallurgical science mixed up with considerations of theoretical philosophy. Medieval alchemy in the West may be divided into two main stages: from the middle of the twelfth century to the end of the thirteenth century, the Arabic material was assimilated and Latin treatises were composed on the basis of this material, but with an increasing level of distinctive features; during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, alchemy developed from the Latin texts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries rather than from Arabic sources.

Alchemy never came into universities; it was a knowledge on the fringe. However, it had a very close link with natural philosophy and medicine. The authoritative texts in alchemy are few in number: some Arabic translations (especially those attributed to al-Rāzī and Avicenna), the Summa perfectionis, and some texts attributed to Arnald of Villanova, Ramon Llull, and Johannes de Rupescissa. Authors used to compile ideas from previous major alchemists.

The Latin word alchimia is a transcription of the Arabic al-kīmiyā’, which is itself a transcription of the Greek word χ υ μεíα (fusion).

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Primary Sources

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Warburg InstituteUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Institut OrientalisteUniversité Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium