Ancient Egyptian Science, Alchemy

D. It is, however, manifestly a copy of a work previously written, as slight errors evidently due to a copyist, are found. That the original is later than the first century A. D. is certain, as there are included in it extracts from the Materia Medica of Dioscorides. The work is a collection of chemical recipes and directions for:

1. Making metallic alloys
2. Imitations of gold, silver or electrum
3. Dyeing and other related arts

The Leyden papyrus comprises about seventy-five recipes pertaining to the making of alloys, for soldering metals, for coloring the surfaces of metals, for testing the quality of or purity of metals, or for imitating the precious metals.

There are fifteen recipes for writing in gold or silver or in imitation of gold and silver writing. There are eleven recipes for dyeing stuffs in purple or other colors. The last eleven paragraphs are extracts from the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, relating to the minerals or materials used in the processes involved.

One interesting fact is a test for pure gold. Test for purity of gold, remelt and heat it. If pure, it keeps its color after heating, and remains like a coin. If it becomes whiter, it contains silver, if it becomes rough and hard, it contains copper and tin, if it softens and blackens it contains lead.

To write in letters of gold – take quicksilver, pour it into a suitable vase and add gold leaf. When the gold appears dissolved in the quicksilver, shake well, add a little gum, one grain for example, and letting it stand, write in letters of gold.

Manufacture of asem (electrum):
Tin, 12 drachmas; quicksilver, 4 drachmas; earth of Chios, 2 drachmas. To the melted tin add the powdered earth, then add the mercury, stir with an iron, and put it into use.

When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 33 B.C. and his general Ptolemy became King of Egypt, the Greek city of Alexandria was founded, and soon became not only the most important city of Egypt, but through the foundation of schools and the accumulation of libraries became the acknowledged center of the intellectual world.

As the power of Rome grew, Greek and Egyptian power declined. Egypt became a Roman province in 80 B. C. A fire, started, it is recorded, from ships burning in the harbor during Caesar’s conquest of Alexandria, burned an important part of the collection of manuscripts of the Alexandria libraries.

Under the Roman Empire, Alexandria, however, still exerted great influence and in the reign of Augustus was a metropolis second only to Rome itself, but in the succeeding centuries when Rome was suffering from internal disintegration and the Roman Empire was crumbling from successful barbarian invasions; Alexandrian culture also yielded to the general demoralization.

In the third century, the conditions throughout the Empire were such as to justify the statement of competent critic – “In the tempest of anarchy during the third century A.D. the civilization of the ancient world suffered final collapse. The supremacy of mind and of scientific knowledge won by the Greeks in the third century B.C. yielded to the reign of ignorance and superstition in these social disasters of the third century A.D.”

In the light of present knowledge, it was in the period of the first to the third centuries that the mystical cult which cultivated the fantastic ideas of that kind of chemical philosophy which later came to be called alchemy, first developed. The beginning seems to have been the development of a secret cult of Alexandrian mystics bound by oath never to reveal to the uninitiated the mysterious knowledge which they claimed to have. That the members of the cult were originally of the Egyptian priesthood or foreign scholars initiated by them, seems probable, for Egyptian deities or mythological personages are prominent as authorities in their writings.

That the cult was of comparatively late development is evidenced by the prominence of Persian, and Hebrew authorities that were also frequently cited in their early writings. All this points to the cosmopolitan influence of the Alexandrian schools the melting pots of Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian and Chaldean philosophies, sciences, religions and superstitions. The universal sway of the Roman power and the pax Romana had also the effect of spreading the various cultures and national religions, but at the same time of weakening their authority.

In the early centuries of our era, Rome and Athens contained temples of Egyptian Isis, and shrines to Mithra, the Persian sun god, were frequent in Greek and Roman cities, symptoms of a decline in the power of the ancient religions in the centers of civilization under the Empire.

There was rising the new and at first persecuted sect of Christians destined soon to supplant the old faiths. Recognized and protected early in the fourth century under the Emperor Constantine, the new sect as it gained influence waged war upon the schools of ancient pagan philosophies.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *