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TRANSMUTATION THEORY AND THE DATING OF THE

ALCHEMICAL RECIPE ON THE SAME DIVINE WATER*

It used to be common to assume that Greek alchemy was a syncretistic science combining
the industrial process of the ancient Egyptians, the speculative theories of the Greek
philosophers and the mystical reveries of the Alexandrians and the gnostics.1 Although it
is far from certain that Greek alchemical recipes were representative of ancient
metallurgical and tinctorial technologies.2 Our knowledge of gnosticism has also greatly
advanced since Marcellin Berthelot wrote these lines in 1885 but it is still generally
assumed that Greek alchemical inquiry was mainly informed by Greek philosophy.
Scholars who looked more precisely into this question have also often assumed that a
single transmutation theory was present throughout the Greek alchemical corpus.3
Aristotelian hylomorphism used to be the favourite model, even though its links with
specific passages of Greek alchemical corpus were absent or only cursorily presented.4
Some scholars also traced the birth of alchemy back to Bolos of Mendes, who was
formerly seen as the forerunner of Greek alchemical inquiry as well as a proponent of
Greek philosophy and of the theory of the cosmic sympathy more specifically.5 In other
words, the tendency to see Greek alchemy as a child of Greek philosophy and to leave it
there has oriented historical research on Greek alchemy toward uncovering a single
general theory of transmutation in the alchemical corpus.

*
This research was made possible thanks to the generous help of the Fonds Qubcois de la Recherche,
Science et Culture and of the Distant Worlds Graduate School of the Ludwig Maximilians Universitt. I also
want to thank Claudia Mirrione for her comments on an earlier version of this work presented in Palermo in
2014 at the CRF conference Understanding Matter. I would also like to thank Robin McGill for her help
with the English formatting of this text.
1
Marcellin Berthelot, Les origines de lalchimie, Georges Steinheil, 1885, p.2.
2
See Les alchimistes grecs vol.1: Papyrus de Leyde, papyrus de Stockholm, recettes, edition and translation
by Robert Halleux, Belles Lettres, 1981, p.27.
3
By alchemical corpus, I mean here the content of the three alchemical manuscript traditions represented
chiefly by the Marcianus gr. 299 (M), the Parisinius gr. 2327 (A) and the Parisinus gr. 2325 (B), whether
all stem from a single alchemical compilation or not. See Les alchimistes grecs, Tome 4, partie 1: Zosime de
Panopolis, Mmoires authentiques, edition, translation and annotation by Michle Mertens, Belles Lettres,
1995, p.xxi (= MA)
4
e.g. Arthur J. Hopkins, Alchemy, Child of Greek Philosophy, Columbia University Press, 1934.
5
e.g. Andr-Jean Festugire, La rvlation dHerms Trismgiste, Belles Lettres, 1944, p.233-238. On the
refutation of Max Wellmann's theory according to which Bolos Demokritos was the author of a lost
Physika that formed the basis of Greek alchemical inquiry, see, among other works, Pseudo-Democrito,
Scritti alchemici. Con il commentario di Sinesio. Edizione critica del testo greco, traduzione e commento di
Matteo Martelli, S..H.A / Arch, 2011, p.99-112.
1
Now we can see more clearly, perhaps as late antique philosophers did, that alchemical
writers were less faithful to the doctrines of Greek philosophers than they pretended.6 It is
less widely recognized that most alchemical writers did not directly theorize transmutation
and that those who did not share the same ideas. The pseudo-Democritean Physica et
Mystica (first cent. CE), which is usually considered as the first genuine work of Greek
alchemy (i.e. as a theoretical and practical work on the tinctorial tradition), uses language
related to the notion of cosmic sympathy (, ),7 but does not provide an
explicit theory of transmutation. Writing perhaps around 300 CE, Zosimus of Panopolis
spoke of transmutation simply as a way to illustrate the paradox of the unity of matter.8 It
is possible, however, that he conceived of transmutation theoretically, but no explicit
references to this concept survive in his writings. All that we have from Zosimus on this
topic are allusions to the concept of transmutation,9 and vague quotations, such as those
found in alchemical work attributed to Olympiodorus.10 It is only with the alchemical
treatises attributed to Synesius and Olympiodorus (difficult to date but certainly written
after Zosimus since they quote him) that we can find explicit theories of transmutation.11

Modern reconstructions of the ancient general theory of transmutation usually correspond


to one or more of the following options:

1. A cosmic sympathy theory, obtained by focusing on mentions of and allusions to


the intimate connection () between natural substances (most notably in
the Physica et Mystica). According to this theory, certain substances were thought
to interact naturally with each other in surprising ways. Transmutation would have
consisted in knowing which combination could bring the desired result.12

2. A maturation theory, assuming that alchemical writers were particularly


influenced by the last part of the Meterologica book 3, which explained the

6
See Proclus, Commentary on the Republic, 2.234.14-25 Kroll with Cristina Viano, Aristote et lalchimie
grecque: La transmutation et le modle aristotlicien entre thorie et pratique, Revue dhistoire des sciences
49 (1996), p.189-213, who develops the critique.
7
See Festugire, La rvlation, p.233-238.
8
For an explicit passage in which transmutation is described see MA 10.4 and 10.7. See also the edition of
Mertens for a discussion of dating and for a criticism of the edition of Berthelot and Ruelle, which attributed
too many texts of the Greek alchemical corpus to Zosimus.
9
MA 10.133-135.
10
For a discussion of these quotations, see Viano, Aristote et lalchimie grecque.
11
For a substantiation of this argument, see Olivier Dufault, Transmutation Theory in the Greek
Alchemical Corpus, forthcoming in Ambix.
12
Festugire, La rvlation, p.235; Jackson Lindsay, The Origins of Alchemy in Greco-Roman Egypt,
Muller, 1970, p.116-117.
2
creation of metals and non-fusible minerals inside the earth through the burning
and condensing of dry and humid exhalations. According to the maturation theory,
all metals were made of the same substance and that specific differences between
metals were due to the fact that different pockets of humid exhalations had reached
different levels of maturation inside the earth. Still according to this reading,
alchemical writers considered the purest metal, gold, to have been also the oldest
and the most mature form of the same metallic substrate that constituted all other
metals. Alchemists would have considered transmutation to be the process by
which the alchemical apparatus, like the earth or like the womb, cooked base
metals until they reached their mature state, i.e. gold.13

3. A form-transfer theory, based on Aristotles hylomorphic theory, which accounts


for all observable substances and for their alteration by stating that all physical
objects are composites of form and matter. Material change, in this theory, is the
addition of form with matter or its subtraction thereof. Modern descriptions of the
form-transfer theory focus on references to an hypostatic body in the alchemical
works attributed to Synesius and Olympiodorus, and references to qualities
() of gold, also called vapours (), pneuma or soul, in other words,
the form of gold that would have been injected into the hypostatic bodyan
instantiated and undifferentiated substrateso as to obtain gold.14

Unlike the other theories, the form-transfer theory is the only one laid out explicitly in the
alchemical corpus.15 As Karl von Prantl already saw it in 1856, this form-transfer theory
was based on a marrying of Aristotelian and Stoic physics, in which the Aristotelian
notion of form was individualized and materialized and consequently represented by the
Stoic notion of pneuma. This idea was later reworked by Edmund von Lippmann at the
beginning of the twentieth century.16 Twenty years later, Arthur Hopkins also postulated
that all Greek alchemical work was based on one single theory, that of the Aristotelian

13
Mircea Eliade, Forgerons et alchimistes, Flammarion, 1977; John Hudson, The History of Chemistry,
Springer, 1992, p.17. I would also add to this list the following two studies, even though they present hybrid
solutions implying both maturation and form-transfer theory: Hugh W. Salzberg, From Caveman to
Chemist, American Chemical Society, 1991, p.44; Trevor H. Levere, Transforming Matter: a History of
Chemistry from Alcohol to the Buckyball, John Hopkins University Press, 2001, p.5.
14
Edmund O. von Lippmann, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie, Springer, 1919, p.314-326;
Hopkins, Alchemy, p.123; Eric J. Holmyard, Alchemy, Dover, 1957, p.26; Robert J. Forbes, Studies in
Ancient Technology, vol.1, Brill, 1955, p.133.
15
See CAG 91.5-92.15 with Dufault, Transmutation Theory, forthcoming.
16
Lippmann, Entstehung, p.324.
3
notion that like begets like. He saw the philosophical stone, which was thought to
fertilize base metals and turn them into gold, as the alchemistic form of Aristotles
entelechy, the final cause which can reproduce itself.17 All these scholars, however, were
rather vague when it came to citing relevant passages from the alchemical corpus that
could support their theory.

More recently, Cristina Viano underlined the major role played by Aristotle in alchemical
theorization, but she also showed clearly where Aristotelian vocabulary and citations had
been used in the alchemical corpus.18 Looking closely at the evidence, we can see that
texts securely attributed to Zosimus of Panopolis do not generally use the same
Aristotelian vocabulary found in later works attributed to Synesius, Olympiodorus and
Stephanus.19 One major exception to this rule, however, is the alchemical recipe entitled
On the Same Divine Water, formerly attributed to Zosimus. Michle Mertens recently
argued on codicological and lexical bases that this attribution was erroneous. In the
following study, I will first (1) describe the recipe and (2) describe the philosophical
background of the recipe On the Same Divine Water. I will (3) study other characteristics
of the text in order to offer further confirmation of Mertens editorial choice and finally
suggest how the textual and semantic characteristics described here could be used to form
a coherent set of dating criteria.

1. On the Same Divine Water


The text of the recipe On the Same Divine Water ( ) is always
found in manuscripts between works that have been attributed to Zosimus, but it is itself
unattributed in all manuscripts. The in the title most probably derives from the fact
that the recipe was copied after a treatise entitled On the Vaporization of the Divine Water
that Fixes Mercury (
). The goal of the recipe is to create a powder that can turn silver into gold
through an elaborate procedure in which the humid and dry parts of eggs are separated by
distillation, recombined and distilled again. The egg was a symbol of the universe across

17
Hopkins, Alchemy, p.2 and p.123. This is also the theory found in Holmyard, Alchemy, p.26.
18
Viano, Aristote et lalchimie grecque.
19
See Dufault, Transmutation Theory.
4
the globe, and was also present in Greek and Roman cultures.20 By late antiquity, this
symbolism was no longer limited to orphic literature and had integrated different spheres
of knowledge where the different parts of the egg, still in keeping with cosmic symbolism,
could be held to represent the four elements. 21 The same type of allegorical reading can be
found in an anonymous and undated Egg Lexicon found in the Greek alchemical corpus,22
and the use of eggs in On the Same Divine Water probably derive from the same
symbolism. Considering that alchemical texts also explicitly mention that the egg and its
parts can act as code-names for different natural products, it is difficult to interpret what
the author of the recipe meant by the yolk and the shell of the egg. Nonetheless, this
difficulty does not affect my argument because I concentrate on the processes used in the
recipe rather than the actual ingredients. In fact, if the egg was a metaphor of the
universeone thing and everything, as it is often said in alchemical textsany
substance could be substituted to the egg without affecting the principles at play in the
recipe. Here is a summary of the instructions given in the recipe:

1. Having pounded () hard-boiled yolks and burnt eggshells, throw whole


eggs into the compound; let it roast ( ) in an alembic until the
raising of the vapours has ceased (i.e. until the compound is fully distilled). The
joints of the apparatus need to be well secured so to keep the odour in, since, as the
recipe states, this odour is the art (nothing more is said about this odour in the
rest of the recipe); the heat must come from dung or from any low source of heat.
(1-23)

2. The raised waters must be kept in the receiver () while the dead slag
( , also called ash, , or corpse, ), which has
remained in the female dish,23 must be mixed with egg yolks. The humid parts,
i.e. the eggs, must be pound together with the dry parts, i.e. the ash (
). (28-34)

20
On the theory of an Eastern origin to the myth of the cosmogonic egg, see Martin West, Ab Ovo:
Orpheus, Sanchuniathon, and the Origins of the Ionian World Model, Classical Quarterly 44.2 (1994),
p.289-307.
21
See Robert Turcan, Luf orphique et les quatre lments (Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis, II, 140),
Revue de l'histoire des religions 160.1 (1961), p.11-23.
22
See CAG 1.18-21.
23
The text reads , i.e. in the lower part of the still, which the recipe described earlier
as the male-and-female glass vessel called the alembic (3). The reader is told not to swear off bringing
the dead to resurrection but to expect the resurrection of this hopeless case. (
. : MA 9.30-32). This is one of the rare
sentences in the recipe that suggest a metaphorical reading which could apply to humans as well.
5
3. Distil24 the humid part from the egg mixture and recombine the resulting water
() with the dry residue; repeat this operation twice. (36-47)

4. Seal the resulting substance in a glass container ( ) and let it sit in


dung for forty-one days until putrefaction () is produced. (47-56)

5. The product of this operation is a green compound, a putrefied substance ();25


let the glass container sit for five days outside of the source of heat and distill it
() in order to obtain a most divine/sulphurous water ( ).
(59-68)

6. Cook () this water for two or three days; pound () the result and
let it dry in the sun; when it solidifies like soap, cast the resulting powder in silver
so as to obtain gold.26 (68-73)

2. Greek Physics in On the Same Divine Water


The fact that the recipe only requires eggs is surprising considering that alchemical recipes
usually involve multiple ingredients. This particularity also makes it easier to determine
what ancient transmutation theory was at play in the recipe, since it is unlikely that the
desired effect was thought to come from the combination of different reactive substances
(unless the burnt eggshell and the yolk and egg white were considered different
substances). Whether the egg was intended as a metaphor or not,27 the operational logic of
the recipe is relatively simple: almost all of the prescriptions amount to the same process,
which is described in the text of the recipe itself as the domination of one part of the egg
over the other part. This is also evident in several different citations of alchemical axioms
figuring in the same passage reproduced below. The recipe states that the mixture of eggs
and egg shells must be left in the dung of an oven for forty-one days, so that:

once the putrefaction is accomplished, (1) the dyed (object) becomes like the dyeing
(object) and that (2) the nature dominates the nature. For in this way (3) the

24
The recipe says to put in an alembic and do as was said before (34). This process is later called an
extraction (44: ).
25
, (MA
9.60-62).
26
The recipe states more ambiguously, and gold will be yours: ,
, ,
(MA 9.70-73).
27
See MA, p.30, n.1.
6
divine/sulphurous (objects) are dominated by the divine/sulphurous (objects) and (4) the
humid (objects) are dominated by the corresponding humid (objects).28

Why was the transformation of the egg into a transmutation powder described as a process
of domination? The second axiom of the passage here, the nature dominates the
nature, is a quotation found in its earliest datable form in the Physica et Mystica,29 and it
appears to illustrate the first axiom-like sentence, the dyed (object) becomes like the
dyeing (object), and not found anywhere else in the corpus. In other words, the dry
residues from the distillation are said to interact with the liquid distillate in a manner that
is both that of a tinctorial process and that of domination. In the context of the recipe, the
egg distillate must have been considered the dyed object, and the dyeing object must have
been the egg residues, since the product of the recipe is the distilled water, which would in
turn work as a dyeing agent. Applying the same interpretation to the third and fourth
axiomsnot in the Physica et Mystica but found elsewhere in the alchemical corpuswe
get the added precision that the natures () in question are natural kinds.

Deriving a theory from the axioms, we should then understand the transformation of the
eggs into a transmuting powder as the product of the domination of a species in a
natural kind on another species in a natural kind: each species in a natural kind was
thought to dominate the corresponding species ( ) in the same kind, the
first kind being the divine/sulphurous ( ) and the second being the watery (
). This reconstruction reflects the typical use of the expression to dominate
() in Greek philosophy since the Presocratics. Whether it was Anaxagoras notion
of the intellect shaping the cosmos, Platos explanation of elementary changes, Aristotles
explanations of generation, destruction and alteration, or the generation of the first beings
in the Hippocratic treatise On Flesh, classical Greek physics referred to physical change as
the dominating action of one entity on another.30

28
MA 9.52-56: ,
.
. A similar axiom is credited to Maria by Zosimus, CAG 2.171.4-5:
(Lb, p.227, reads ). It can also be found at
CAG 1.20.7-10 (Anonymous, On the Egg) and at CAG 2.186.8-9 (Zosimus, Summaries to Eusebeia, On
Divine Water):
(the same variation between and found at CAG
2.171.4-5 is also found here in the manuscripts).
29
: Pseudo-Democritus,
Physica et Mystica, 3 in Pseudo-Democrito, Scritti alchemici, p.184-185 (= CAG 43.20-21).
30
Empedocles, B17.38, B26.3 DK; Anaxagoras, A42.30, A48, A100, B12 DK; Diogenes of Apollonia, B5
DK; Archelaos, A1.10-13 DK; Plato, Timaeus 39a-40b, 56e, 57a-b. Parturition, which was compared to
7
Domination means transformation, and in Aristotelian physics, the assimilation of one
foreign body into another, but this principle was too wide-spread to signal the influence of
a specific school of philosophy. The axiom mentioning that the humid objects are
dominated by the corresponding humid objects, however, suggests a relationship with
the physics of the real Democritus. Sextus Empiricus (55B164 DK) and Aetius (55A128
DK) referred to a Democritean tradition according to which similar things attract similar
things. Aristotle also mentioned that Democritus was the only philosopher to have said
that the active and passive terms in an interaction must have been similar:

But Democritus dissented from all the other thinkers and maintained a theory peculiar to
himself. He asserts that agent and patient are identical, i.e. like. It is not possible (he
says) that others, i.e. differents, should suffer action from one another: on the
contrary, even if two things, being others, do act in some way on one another, this
happens to them not qua others but qua possessing an identical property.31

The idea that the reactivity of two substances is due to their corresponding nature is also
compatible with the sympathetic theory, which is present in the Physica et Mystica. The
recipe, however, goes one step further than assigning invisible sympathetic relationship
between apparently unrelated objects. The last two axioms of the recipe describe the
dominating power of similar kinds over similar kinds and the most suitable philosophical
precedent for this idea can be found in Aristotelian physics. Introducing Democritus
position on interaction in the introduction to his treatise On Generation and Corruption,
Aristotle took a middle path showing that Democritus as well as the other philosophers
were wrong, and that the right answer was somewhere in between. Interaction between
any two substances, he claimed, necessitated an active and a passive term and could only
occur between terms that are similar enough to be compatible, but different enough so that
one could be said to be passive and the other active.32 In other words, interaction could
only occur between things that are generically similar but that are also specifically
different. In Aristotelian physics, homomerous bodies, such as biological tissues and
minerals, were caused by mixing, which Aristotle defined as a stalemate between the
dominating powers of two interacting entities. This stalemate produced the transformation
of each of the ingredients nature into what dominates, creating a new being, a

alchemical tincture in the alchemical Summaries to Theodorus (CAG 216.4-9). See also: Hipponax, A14
DK, Aristotle, Generation of Animals, 4.3.767b6-768a-10, and the Hippocratic On Flesh, 3, 4.7, 8.2 and On
Sperm and the nature of the child, 6.
31
55A63 DK = On Generation and Corruption 1.7 (trans. Joachim).
32
On Generation and Corruption, 1.7.
8
compound that is neither one or the other but something common and in-between.33 If
we were to select one theory of transformation that could lie behind the saying that the
sulphurous/divine objects and that the humid objects are affected by their counterparts, i.e.
that species in a natural kind are affected by other species in the same natural kind,
Aristotles theory of mixture as described in On Generation and Corruption and the
Meteorologica 4 is an appropriate candidate.

The procedure described in On the Same Divine Water, however, contradicts the
Aristotelian interpretation of the axioms. The eggshells are specifically described in the
recipe as the dry and the yolks as the humid.34 It seems then that the first and second
axioms refer to the dry and the humid, that is to say, the slag/ash/corpse and the distilled
waters, when they say that one substance dominates and dyes the other. Why then do
axioms three and four apparently separate the two reacting components of the recipe in
sulphurous/divine and humid? Moreover, and cognates in alchemy can refer not
only to sulphur or a divine substance but also to that which rises up during the
distillation,35 that is to say, the divine waters, which also stink of sulphurand this
would be effectively true of the slow distillation of eggs. Assuming that each axiom refers
to the two same divided substances, the slag and the distillate, it is curious that the dry
and the humid of the recipe should be represented in axiom three as the
sulphurous/divine and the humid since these two things appear to be the same,
according to the alchemical meaning of and just mentioned.

3. Authenticity and Dating of On the Same Divine Water


It is outside the scope of this paper to understand the precise meaning of the axioms in this
recipe. It is sufficient here to point out the reference to Aristotelian physics and the
apparent contradiction between this reference and the actual process of the recipe. The
notion that substances from each kind (the humid and the sulphurous/divine) are
dominated by the corresponding substance in the same kind, however, points toward
Aristotelian physics and Aristotelian ideas in the alchemical corpus, ideas which are most
prevalent in later texts.36 This suggests that the text was written later rather than earlier in

33
On Generation and Corruption, 1.10.328a23-31.
34
MA 9. 33-34, 58-59.
35
See CAG 2.75.68 with Matteo Martelli, Divine Water in the Alchemical Writings of Pseudo-
Democritus, Ambix 56 (2009), p.5-22.
36
See Dufault, Transmutation Theory, forthcoming.
9
the alchemical tradition and that Zosimus would have been particularly precocious in
adapting Aristotelian vocabulary and ideas to his recipes. As we will see, the contradiction
between the Aristotelian ideas expressed by the axioms and the procedural logic of the
recipe can be explained by its reattribution.

Michle Mertens, indeed, has recently argued that Zosimus had not written this recipe.
This would reinforce the hypothesis that On the Same Divine Water, like most alchemical
texts with Aristotelian vocabulary or ideas, was written late in the constitution of the
alchemical corpus. The fact that the recipe had been copied in between texts attributed to
Zosimus had originally pushed Mertens in favour of an attribution of the text to Zosimus.
Mertens also recognized that this evidence was not secure, however, and her suspicions
were confirmed by several new observations. First, Mertens remarked that there are a few
blank lines on the folio of the Marcianus gr. 299 that precedes On the Same Divine
Water.37 Once we consider the recipe as anonymous, pieces of evidence which were
ignored at first can now make more sense. The most obvious point is that the recipe is
unattributed in all manuscripts. The remarks concluding On the Same Divine Water can
also be brought in support of Mertens new position on the authenticity of the document.
The author of these remarks indicated that Zosimus, the Christian, and Stephanus had
calculated that it took a hundred and ten days to complete the recipe, which is slightly
different than the time needed to complete the recipe of On the Same Divine Water.38
Assuming that these are not extraneous glosses that crept into the manuscript tradition but
concluding comments by the author of the recipe, they could instead be indications of
the time taken by the recipethat is, the generic recipe, not this specific version of the
recipeas found in Zosimus and the others. The scribe in fact indicated that he compiled
his text from multiple sources, and this last comment might have been a way to explain the
discrepancies: The total number of days come to around a hundred and ten days, as
Zosimus, the Christian and Stephanus said. I, for one, have beautifully collected, as the
bee (does), and I have braided a crown of many flowers, which I give to you, my master.
39
Considering that the recipe was not by Zosimus, these remarks appear to have been the

37
This and other remarks attributed to Mertens here are based on a personal communication with the author
and summarize her views, presented at Gli alchimisti greci : testi, dottrine, confronti, a conference held in
Venice, 5-7 December 2007 (in print) and at a workshop in Cambridge in March 2013.
38
See MA, p.33, n.16.
39
MA 9.74-78: ,
.
, , .
10
signature of the compiler who collected and stitched various passages together to create
the text of the present recipe. The same reinterpretation can also be brought to bear on two
aspects of the recipe that are apparently absurd: the fact that the recipe asks to add an
unspecified amount of eggs to a mixture of precisely measured yolks and burnt eggshells;
the fact that the odour of the egg distillate does not play any role in the recipe even if it is
described as a crucial element.

Secondly, Mertens pointed out some discrepancies between the technical vocabulary of
the recipe and that used by Zosimus. The recipe calls the bottom part of the alembic a
, which Zosimus usually calls the .40 Similarly, Mertens also pointed out that
the text of the recipe calls the distillate receptacle of the alembic the . This term is
never used by Zosimus, who rather calls the distillate receptacle the , or the .

The use of the terms and , two relatively rare words, can be used as dating
criteria. Outside of the alchemical corpus, they have the meaning of vessels or oil flasks
and are exclusively found in works dated after the sixth century CE. means an oil
flask in the seventh-century Miracles of Saint Artemis,41 and is used with the same
meaning in the Life of Theodore of Sykeon, also written in the seventh century CE or
after.42 glosses , a vessel for oil, in the thirteenth-century lexicon
attributed to Zonaras, which suggests that it might have become a relatively common term
by then.43

These two terms rarely occur in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and are even more
infrequently used by alchemical authors. Apart from the recipe On the Same Divine Water,
they only appear in the Fifth Book of Democritus Addressed to Leucippus,44 and in the
collection of recipes entitled Beneficence and Success of the Creator, Success of the Work
and Long Duration of Life, which Berthelot and Ruelle simply called Chimie de Mose.45
Both texts are extremely difficult to date. In his edition of the main alchemical works
attributed to Democritus, Matteo Martelli considered the Fifth Book of Democritus to be
unrelated to the standard pseudo-Democritean material and excluded it from his edition,
also remarking that even if the name of the treatise supposed a composition date at which

40
See, e.g. MA 3.24.
41
A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, Varia graeca sacra, St Petersburg 1909 (repr. Leipzig 1975), p.43-44.
42
Festugire, Vie de Thodore de Syken, Socit des Bollandistes, 1970, 154-157.
43
J.A.H. Tittmann, Iohannis Zonarae lexicon ex tribus codicibus manuscriptis, 2 vols, Crusius, Leipzig,
1808 (repr. Hakkert, Amsterdam, 1967), p.1305.
44
CAG 1.53-56.
45
CAG 3.300-315.
11
the four books of Democritus were still remembered by alchemical writers, none of them
cited the Fifth Book of Democritus. The absence of references to this workwhich one
might expect considering the popularity of Democritus in the alchemical corpusmight
have incited Jean Letrouit to claim that The Fifth Book of Democritus was a very late
work.46 The Beneficence and Success of the Creator includes material from the
Catalogues attributed to Democritus by Zosimus,47 but it is a collection of recipes and it
must have been compiled with material coming from different periods.48

Since most mentions of and were made around the time at which the
alchemical corpus was constitutednamely between the reign of Heraclius (610-641 CE)
and the compilation date of the earliest collection (the Marcianus gr. 299, c. 1000 CE)49
the use of these terms in the alchemical corpus may be later glosses, or evidence that the
text was composed late in the history of the corpus, or, again, that it is a compilation
including material from that period. In any case, I consider that the use of the terms
and suggests a terminus post quem of the sixth century CE.

All datable parallels to the egg recipe of On the Same Divine Water also date from the
sixth century CE or later. The Beneficence and Success of the Creator, unfortunately
impossible to date, includes three egg recipes that each individually share elements with
the recipe On the Same Divine Water.50 Another close parallel can be found in the treatise
called the Creation of Crystal, which, like the other egg-distillation recipes, describes how
to treat eggs to produce a powder that can transmute substances into gold. Unfortunately,
this text too is difficult to date.

Another short alchemical text, On the Divine Water of the Whitening, includes a procedure
in which eggs are distilled although it is not entirely clear what it was intended to produce

46
See Matteo Martelli in Pseudo-Democrito, Scritti alchemici, p.72 and Jean Letrouit, Chronologie des
alchimistes grecs, in D. Kahn and S. Matton (eds.), Alchimie: art, histoire et mythes, S..H.A / Arch,
1995, p.80, n.253.
47
See Martelli in Pseudo-Democrito, Scritti alchemici, p.83-90.
48
See Id., p.86. The Beneficence and Success of the Creator reproduces part of the a glossary on the egg
with some modifications (CAG 1.19.7-17); it also reproduces several recipes from the Physica et Mystica
(see the notes in the edition of Berthelot and Ruelle); and it reproduces the same recipes or lines twice,
although with some variations (27 = 41, l.11-17 are reproduced with insignificant variants at CAG
3.313.27).
49
See MA, p.xxi.
50
The first recipe mentions the three usual code-names for the three different colours of the distillate:
compare CAG 3.303.3-5 with MA 9.37-40; the second recipe only instructs one to mix an indiscriminate
amount of egg with a mixture made of a measured amount of egg and shells (or lime as in the Beneficence
and Success of the Creator): compare CAG 3.303.6-8 with MA 9.1-10; the third recipe also asks for the
repeated combination of the egg distillate and the remaining powder (i.e. the dry: ): compare
CAG 3.303.13-20 with MA 9.32-38.
12
and if it is closely related to the recipe On the Same Divine Water. It was attributed to an
anonymous philosopher, who, however, cited Synesius, Olympiodorus and Stephanus
and can consequently be dated to the seventh century at the earliest. Another parallel egg-
distillation recipe, this one attributed to Ostanes, should perhaps be dated around the same
time.51 The so-called Christian philosopher, possibly writing after the Muslim conquest of
Egypt, offers another parallel to the egg-distillation recipe.52

In a fascinating article, Andre Colinet has showed the dependency of the Work of the
Four Elements, a complex egg-distillation recipe,53 on a recipe found in the Book of the
Seventies, attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan written at some point between the eighth and the
tenth century CE.54 Colinet remarked that the foreign word appearing in this text
is a transliteration of the Arabic sarqin, sirqin or sirgin, a word of Persian origin
meaning dung, a product used as a source of heat in almost all egg-distillation recipes. At
first glance, this is not a significant criterion to establish the authorship of the recipe since
some of the oldest Greek alchemical manuscripts includes foreign words.55 What is more
remarkable, however, is that Colinet demonstrated that by removing all sections of the text
including references to old Greek alchemists and to code-names of substances, one obtains
a recipe that is almost identical to that attributed to Jabir. The resulting text is also much
closer to the Latin Book of the Thirty Words, which is also a translation of the recipe from
the Jabirian corpus. Only the Greek adaptation changed the stone of the Arabic source to
an egg, keeping with egg symbolism in the Greco-Roman world. According to the recipes
logic, the separation through distillation and the recombination of the four elements was
meant to produce the ferment of gold, projection powder or philosophers
stone able to transmute metals into gold. Considering that the Greek Work of the Four
Elements was most probably an adaptation of a recipe from the Jabirian Book of the
Seventies, it must then have been adapted from its Arabic (or Syriac) 56 source between the

51
CAG 3.261-262; Letrouit, Chronologie, p. 87.
52
CAG 3.409-410.
53
CAG 3.337.14-342.
54
Andre Colinet, Le Travail des quatre lments ou lorsquun alchimiste byzantin sinspire de Jabir, in I.
Draelants, A. Tihon and B van den Abeele (eds.), Occident et Proche-Orient, Brepols, 2000, p.165-190.
55
Tabasios, an ingredient found in the recipes of P. Holm. (139, 309 and 473) is probably the bamboo-
extract of Indian origin now called tabashir. On foreign words found in Greek alchemical sources, see
Colinet, Le Travail des quatre lments, p.165, n.1.
56
Syed Haq remarks that Aristotelian works in Arabic show that they passed through Syriac first. Greek
texts of Arabic origin might have followed the reverse which the Greek The Work of the Four Elements and
Latin The Thirty Words took. See Syed Nomanul Haq, Names, p.26 citing F. E. Peters, Aristoteles Arabus,
Leiden, 1968, p. 32.
13
redaction of the Jabirian corpus (c.750-1000 CE)57 and the appearance of its Greek
adaptation as found in the Parisinus gr. 2327 (1478 CE).

Finally, two late Greek parallels to On the Same Divine Water confirm that most of egg-
distillation recipes are relatively late. One is attributed to Nicephorus Blemmydes (a
thirteenth-century patriarch) and another to the emperor Justinian (fifth century CE).58
Considering their attribution, these two workslike the majority of those including the
egg-distillation recipemust have been written after the sixth century CE. 59 It can be
said, then, that most datable texts including an egg-distillation recipe appeared at the end
or after the composition of the Greek alchemical corpus. Rather than considering that On
the Same Divine Water would be the only exception to this rule, it seems more likely that
this recipe should also be dated at least to the sixth century CE.

Conclusion
It is fairly unproblematic to agree with Mertens in her editorial choice: On the Same
Divine Water is unattributed in all manuscripts, the scribe or scribes of the Marcianus
appear to have made a distinction between this recipe and the preceding works attributed
to Zosimus, and the recipes author used a technical vocabulary which Zosimus did not
use.

We dont know who wrote On the Same Divine Water, but can we date it? It is striking
that the Beneficence and Success of the Creator (i.e. the Chimie de Mose) and On the
Same Divine Water deal with an egg-distillation recipe, a recipe which generally occurs in
texts belonging to the very end of late antiquity or to a much later period. Both texts also
make use of the term or , which are only found in texts dating from the sixth
century CE or laterexcept if we include three texts from the Greek alchemical corpus,
one of which is On the Same Divine Water, the other two being compilations for which

57
The dating of the works attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan is a vexed question. See Paul Kraus, Jbir b.
Hayyn. Contribution l'histoire des ides scientifiques dans l'Islam, two volumes, Cairo 1942-1943 (MIE,
Tome 44, 45) and Syed Nomanul Haq, Names, Natures and Things. The Alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan and his
Kitab al-Ahjar (Book of Stones), Kluwer, Boston, 1994.
58
CAG 3.452.1-3.457.17 and 3.384.21-3.387.21.
59
It should be noted in passing that the largest available source of such egg-recipes, however, is found in the
fifth book of the Doctrine of Democritus, a Syriac alchemical text, including three egg elixirs recipes that
are close parallels to the recipe On the Same Divine Water. See Marcellin Berthelot and Rubens Duval, La
chimie au moyen age, Tome 2, Imprimerie Nationale, 1893. See No. 5.4, 12-13, 6.5, 6-8, 20, 22, 24-25, 37,
39 (p.43-68). According to Berthelot and Duval, the Syriac translator must have used a compilation dating to
between the sixth and the eighth centuries CE at the earliest, since he translated texts that bear similarities
with the texts attributed to the anonymous alchemist and the Christian alchemist, who were probably
contemporaries of Stephanus of Alexandria (seventh century CE). See Id. p.viii.
14
one can only provide a terminus ante quem of c. 1000, the redaction date of the earliest
alchemical corpus. Either the Greek alchemical corpus is the sole attestation of the early
use of /, or the texts found in the alchemical corpus that include either
or were written at a later date, most probably in the sixth century CE at the earliest. It
seems more likely that On the Same Divine Water, which discusses an egg-distillation
recipe and includes the word , was originally written (or perhaps adapted from
Arabic or Syriac) during the later phase of ancient Greek alchemy, roughly, between the
age of Heraclius and the compilation of the Marcianus gr. 299 (c. 600-1000 CE).

By ascribing On the Same Divine Water to the later part of the Greek alchemical tradition
(c. 600-1000 CE) and not to Zosimus of Panopolis, it is also possible to date the
philosophical allusions to Aristotelism found in axioms three and four to a later date. This
conclusion lends support to the theory that Aristotelian vocabulary and ideas also
appeared in the later part of the Greek alchemical tradition.60 In turn, this suggests that we
should consider the presence of Aristotelian ideas in alchemical texts as a dating criterion.
It is not sufficient by itself, of course, but it could be correlated with other potential
criteria, such as the presence of an egg-distillation recipe, which also appear as a late
addition to Greek alchemical inquiry.

60
Dufault, Transmutation Theory, forthcoming.
15