Episode 3 - A Coveted Pebble: Medieval Alchemy

Some may simply think of alchemy as the attempt to change base metals into gold. A few may know that, with this art, people attempted to produce the elixir of life which could heal any illness and extend the drinker's longevity. However, it is often romanticised as the mystical (if confused) early roots of modern science, or conflated with other branches of knowledge like chemistry, ritual magic, and herbalism. The art of alchemy, however, was distinct. A discipline composed of theories and practices which shared the goal of producing the philosopher's stone. With roots in antiquity, the art flourished in the early medieval Arabic world before being brought to Europe in the high middle ages. In this episode we begin to discuss this complex art, and how it made sense to medieval scholars, given how they understood the world to work.

References and further readings:


  • Bartlett, Robert. The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

  • Collins, David J. “Albertus, Magnus or Magus? Magic, Natural Philosophy, and Religious Reform in the Late Middle Ages” Renaissance Quarterly 63 (2010):1-44.
  • Decaen, Christopher A. "Aristotle’s Aether and Contemporary Science." The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review 68 (2004): 375-429.
  • Hadass, Ofer. Medicine, Religion, and Magic in Early Stewart England. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018.
  • Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. New York: Dover Publications, 1990.
  • Janacek, Bruce. Alchemical Belief: Occultism in the Religious Culture of Early Modern England. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011.
  • Linden, Stanton J. The Alchemy Reader: From Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Marrone, Steven P. A History of Science, Magic & Belief: From Medieval to Early Modern Europe. Lonndon: Palgrave, 2015.
  • Patai, Raphael. The Jewish Alchemist: A History and Source Book. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
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