alchemy

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

alchemy

alchemy (ăl´kəmē), ancient art of obscure origin that sought to transform base metals (e.g., lead) into silver and gold; forerunner of the science of chemistry. Some scholars hold that it was first practiced in early Egypt and others that it arose in China (in the 5th or 3d cent. BC) and was carried westward. It consisted chiefly of experiments with metals and other chemical materials. Alchemical apparatus included the alembic (or ambix) for distillation and the kerotakis for sublimation. In its beginnings alchemy was essentially a craft and embraced many kinds of metalwork, including the use of alloys resembling gold and silver. Alexandria is generally considered a center of early alchemy, and the art was influenced by the philosophy of the Hellenistic Greeks; the conversion of base metals into gold (considered the most perfect of metals) was part of a general striving of all things toward perfection. Since the early alchemists were mainly artisans, they tried to conceal the secrets of their work; thus, many of the materials they used were referred to by obscure or astrological names. It is believed that the concept of the philosopher's stone (called also by many other names, including the elixir and the grand magistery) may have originated in Alexandria; this was an imaginary substance thought to be capable of transmuting the less noble metals into gold and also of restoring youth to the aged. Alchemy, strongly tinged with magic, reached the Arabs (perhaps in the 8th cent.) and remained for several centuries under Muslim influence; in the 12th cent. it reached parts of Europe through translations of Arabic writings (the early Greek treatises were not known in Europe in the Middle Ages). Arab alchemy was preserved especially in the works of Jabir, and the earlier Greek alchemy in those of Zosimus and others. The alchemical writings of the Middle Ages continued to be couched in symbolic and cryptic language. The alchemists became obsessed with their quest for the secret of transmutation; some adopted deceptive methods of experimentation, and many gained a livelihood from hopeful patrons. As a result, alchemy fell into disrepute. However, in the searching experimental quests of the alchemists chemistry had its beginnings; indeed, the histories of alchemy and chemistry are closely linked. Transmutation of elements has been accomplished in modern chemistry.

See L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (8 vol., 1923–58); A. J. Hopkins, Alchemy: Child of Greek Philosophy (1943); C. A. Burland, The Arts of the Alchemists (1967); J. Lindsay, The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt (1970); L. M. Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy (2012).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

alchemy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.