Article ID: CBB001421649

Mercury and Sulphur among the High Medieval Alchemists: From Rāzī and Avicenna to Albertus Magnus and Pseudo-Roger Bacon (2014)


Newman, William R. (Author)

Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
Volume: 61, no. 4
Issue: 4
Pages: 327-344

Publication Date: 2014
Edition Details: Article in a special issue, “Analysis and Synthesis in Medieval and Early Modern Europe”
Language: English

This essay challenges the often expressed view that the principles of metals, namely mercury and sulphur, were generally viewed by alchemists as being of a `metaphysical' character that made them inaccessible to the tools and operations of the laboratory. By examining a number of Arabo-Latin and Latin alchemical texts in circulation before the end of the thirteenth century, the author presents evidence that most alchemists of the period considered mercury and sulphur to be materials subject to techniques of purification in the same way that naturally occurring salts and minerals could be freed of their impurities or dross. The article also points to the immense influence of Avicenna and Albertus Magnus in formulating the theory that mercury and sulphur were compounds of different materials, containing both fixed and unfixed components. Finally, the author briefly examines the relationship between this materialist approach to the principles and the chymical atomism of early modern authors who were deeply aware of medieval alchemical literature.


Description A portion of missing text is included in Ambix Vol. 62, No.1 (2015) pp.107.

Included in

Article Klein, Joel A.; Ragland, Evan R. (2014) Introduction: Analysis and Synthesis in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (pp. 319-326). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Di Martino, Carla
Vernier, Jean-Marie
Savage-Smith, Emilie
Pérex-Bustamante de Monasterio, J. A.
McGinnis, Jon
Janssens, Jules L
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques
Social History of Medicine
Llull: Revista de la Sociedad Española de Historia de las Ciencias y de las Técnicas
British Journal for the History of Science
Tarikh-e Elm (The Iranian Journal for the History of Science)
J. Vrin
Westf Aschendorff
Edizioni Cadmo
Springer International Publishing
Arab/Islamic world, civilization and culture
Metals and metallic compounds
Albertus Magnus
Thomas Aquinas, Saint
al-Majusi, ‘Ali ibn al-'Abbas
al-Rāzī, Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā
Time Periods
13th century
10th century
11th century
14th century
Mediterranean region

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