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   Course Title    The History of Natural Sciences and Alchemy in the Middle Ages
Lecturer    Svetlana Panasenko
Institution    Novosibirsk State Medical University
Country    Russia



*Only basic works are listed here. Specific readings are listed in the appropriate sections of the course description. A complete list of recommended reading is available at the instructor.


Required reading


Texts of Alchemy :

No adequate complete collection of Alchemy texts exists in Russian. For a selection of Alchemy literature (largely from the 15th -18th centuries) students can visit the following site:


Essential readings

Rabinovich V.L. Alchimiya kak fenomen srednevekovoj kul'tury. Moscow, 1979 (in Russian).

Rabinovich V.L. Obraz mira v zerkale alchimii. Moscow: Energoizdat, 1981 (in Russian).

Velikoye Delaniye: Teoriya i simvoly alchimii. Kiev: Novy Acropol, 1995 (in Russian).

Giua, Michele. Storia della Chimica (Russian Translation: Istoriya Chimii. Moscow: Mir, 1975).

Haeffner, Mark. The Dictionary of Alchemy: From Maria Prophetess to Isaac Newton. London: Harper Collins, 1991.

Roob, A. The hermetic Museum. Alchemy and Mysticism. London: Taschen, 1997.


Recommended literature


Bibliotheca chemica. V. 1-2. Ed. J. Ferguson. Glasgow, 1905.

Berthelot, M. Les origines de l' alchemie. Paris, 1885.

Berthelot, M. La chimie au moyen age. T. 1-3. Paris, 1893.

Crombie A.C. Medieval and early Modern Science. New York, 1959.

Dales R.C. The scientific achievements of the Middle Ages. Philadelphia, 1973.

Fabritius Johannes. Alchemy. The medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art (Diamond) 1994.

Haeffner Mark. The Fountain of the Philosophers. Oxford: Alchemy Press, 1986.

-- -- Mercurius. The marriage of Heaven and Hell. London: Macmillan, 1990.

Hichkock, Ethan Allen. Alchemy and the Alchemists. Los Angeles: PRS, 1976.

Hutin, Serge. A History of Alchemy. New York: Walker/Sun, 1962.

Klossowski S. de Rola. Alchemy: The secret Art. London, 1973.

Kuznetsov, V.I. Dialektika razvitiya chimii. Moscow, 1973 (in Russian).

Lublinskaya, A.D. Istochnikovedenie istorii srednevekov'ya. Moscow, 1955 (in Russian).

McLean, Adam. The Silent Language: The Symbols of Hermetic Philosophy. Amsterdam: Pelikan, 1994.

Pascalis Andreas D. Alchemy -- the Golden Art: The Secrets of the Oldest Enigma. Rome: Gremese International, 1995.

Powell, N. Alchemy: The Ancient Science. New York, 1976.

Read, John. Through Alchemy to Chemistry. London: G Bell and Sons, 1957.

-- -- Prelude to Chemistry. Boston, Mass: MIT Press, 1966.

Redgrove, H. Stanley. Alchemy: Ancient and Modern. London: Barnes and Noble, 1973.

Roberts, Gareth. The Mirror of Alchemy: Ideas of Alchemy and Images in Manuscripts and Books. London, 1994.

Taylor, F. Sherwood, The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Science. London: Collier Books, 1962.

-- -- The Alchemists. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1992.



General remarks


The course will trace the historical roots of Chemistry as it appears in Medieval and Early Modern Alchemy and focus on its scientific and philosophical foundations.

Areas covered include the earliest periods of Alchemy in Late Antiquity, Early Medieval (European and Arabic) science and mysticism, Late Medieval Philosophy and Science and the origins of chemistry as an experimental science in the Renaissance and Modern times.


The course is designed for undergraduate students of the Departments of Medicine and Natural Sciences.  In future it is planned to be offered to MA students with major in history of sciences. The course consists of lectures and seminars. Lectures cover the topics outlined below. Class discussions are intended to help students to articulate their thoughts on issues presented in the lectures and the readings. The writing assignments are designed to help students to learn to formulate their arguments clearly and concisely.




The History of Chemistry is one of the courses in the history of sciences and humanities included in the curriculum of the Department of Natural Sciences.

Prerequisites of this course would be: introductory courses in philosophy, history as well as history of science.


All students are expected to attend classes regularly and to be prepared for the discussion of the reading. Excessive absence will lower the final grade. There are three short paper assignments. A midterm and a final exam are also planned.


Course content


Week 1.

Introduction: Sources of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Chemistry


Weeks 2 - 4

The Origins of Alchemy in Greco-Roman Egypt (the 2nd to the 4th centuries).

The Origin of the term "Alchemy". Mythological roots of the magic and the natural science (Isis as an "Alchemist"). "The Emerald Table" of Hermes Trismegistus. Corpus Hermeticum. Mary the Jew ("Maria Prophetess"). Cleopatra. Zosimos of Panoplis. Extant sources, historical evidence and tradition. Greek science and industry.


Additional Reading

Hermes Trismegist i hermeticheskaya traditsiya. Ed. K. Bogutskij. Moscow, 1998 (in Russian; contains a Russian translation of the Corpus Hermeticum and related text as well as a selection of scholarly papers about Hermetism).

Copenhaver, Brian P. Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in new English translation. Cambridge, 1992.

Lindsay, J. The Origins of Alchemy in Greco-Roman Egypt. New York, 1970.

Patai, Raphael. The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book, Princeton


Weeks 5 - 7

Alchemy in the European and Arabic Early Middle Ages and the “chemistry” of Christian doctors (5th to 16th centuries). Jabir ibn Hayyan.

Roger Bacon.

Ramon Lull. Albert the Great. Arnald of Villanova. Thomas Aquinas. Nicholas Flamel.

George Ripley. Basil Valentine.


Additional Reading

Arnold iz Villanovy. Salernskij kodex zdorov'ya. Moscow, 1970 (in Russian)

Basil Valentine, The triumphal chariot of antimony. The last will and testament.

Roger Bacon, Mirror of Alchemy. Speculum alchemiae.

Easton S.C. Roger Bacon and his search for a universal science. New York, 1952.

Friedrich Heer, The Medieval World: Europe 1100-1350. London: Phoenix, 1998.

Toby E Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science. Cambridge UP, 1991.

Carl G. Jung, Fenomen dukha v iskusstve i nauke. Moscow: Renessans, 1992 (in Russian)


Weeks 8 - 10

Alchemy in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern time (16th to 18th centuries).

Geber ( pseudo-Jabir ibn Hayyan ). Paracelsus as a famous doctor and alchemist.

Michael Sendivogius. Michael Maier.


Additional Reading

Paracelsus. Selected writings. Ed. J. Jacobi, translated by N. Guterman (Bollingen Foundation, 28) New York: Pantheon 1951.

Constantius Pisanus. The Book of the secrets of Alchemy. Ed. B. Obrist. Leiden: Brill, 1990.

Bakhtin, M.M. Tvorchestvo Francoise Rable i narodnaya kul'tura srednevekov'ya i Renessansa. Moscow, 1965 (in Russian).

Debuis, Allen G. Man and Nature in the Renaissance. Cambridge, 1992.

Pagel, Walter. Paracelsus: An Introduction to philosophical medicine in the Era of the Renaissance. New York: S. Karger, 1958.

Yates, F.A. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Chicago, 1964.

See also a Paracelsus' site:


Midterm exam


Weeks 11 - 13

Modern Chemistry and Alchemy. The progress of experimental sciences. Research program of the modern science. Invention of Chemical Apparatus by Alchemists.

Alchemist thoughts and their place in the formation of the modern science.

Robert Boyle. Marcellin Berthelot. Isaac Newton.


Additional Reading

Berthelot, M. La chimie au moyen age. T. 1-3. Paris, 1893.

Dobbs, Betty J.T. Alchemical Death and Resurrection: The significance of Alchemy in the Age of Newton. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Libraries, 1990.

-- -- The janus Face of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton's Thought. Cambridge, 1991.

Jardine, Lisa. Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution. New York: Doubleday, 1999

Kanonnikov, I.I. Alchimiya i sovremennaya nauka. Kazan, 1886 (in Russian).

Schumaker, Wayne. Natural Magic and Modern Science. London, 1989.

Stillman, John M. The story of Alchemy and Early Chemistry. New York: Dover, 1960.


Weeks 14 - 16

An outline of the Alchemy theories. A note on the specific character and the manifestly religious tone of the alchemy texts. Philosophers` Stone and gold-making.

The Great Work (Opus Magnum) of the Alchemists. Two methods of the Great Work. The matter of the Great Work. Alchemy symbolism and notation. The symbols of the elements. Sulfur and mercury.  Gold and silver. The Alchemy King and Queen. The Bath of the King and the Queen. Alchemy (philosophical) marriage. Rebis. Stages of the alchemy process.


Additional Reading

Velikoye Delaniye: Teoriya i simvoly alchimii. Kiev: Novy Acropol, 1995 (in Russian).

Roberts, Gareth. The Mirror of Alchemy: Alchemy Ideas and Images in Manuscripts and Books. London, 1994.


Week 17

Alchemy today. Psychology and Alchemy. Carl Gustav Jung and the Analytic Psychology


Additional Reading

Carl.G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (A Russian translation: Moscow: Refl-Book, Vakler, 1997).

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology (A Russian translation: Alchimiya: Vvedeniye v simvolizm i psikhologiyu. St. Petersbourg: B.S.K., 1997).


Final Exam


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