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Understanding the Language of Alchemy

By Gabriele Ferrario

Only recently has a renewed scholarly interest in the history of alchemy begun to shed a new light on the discipline, which has been neglected and relegated – together with astrology, magic and the knowledge of talismans – to the field of the so-called “pseudo-sciences” since ancient times. Alchemy has gained its own place in the history of science, and the increasing number of publications and international conferences on this subject stand as a proof of the liveliness of this field of research and of its relevance.

In spite of the increased interest in this subject, the scholar interested in working with alchemical manuscripts still has to face a number of obstacles not otherwise met by scholars dealing with more traditional texts. . . . For example, questions of authorship and the true nature of the contents of these texts are often difficult to determine. Since the status of alchemy together with its validity as a science and its compatibility with a religious view of the world have always been debated, authors of alchemical treatises often attempt to elevate the significance of the work by falsely attributing their writings to recognized authorities. For example, biblical characters (e.g. Adam, Moses, Enoch, David, Salomon and other prophets), philosophers of the Hellenic past (e.g. Democritus, Socrates, Aristotle and Pythagoras), and mythical forefathers of the esoteric knowledge (like Hermes and Ostanes) are identified as the pseudo-epigraphic authors of a number of medieval alchemical treatises. It is therefore difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the researcher in this area to identify the actual author of the treatises he aims to study.

Read the full article [NOTE: Opens as a pdf.]

(H/T Medievalists.net)

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