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Famous Alchemists

Zosimus ca. 250 AD

Zosimus was an Egyptian born Greek alchemist who believed that all substances are composed of the four elements of nature - Fire, Water, Air and Earth.

He collected together all the knowledge on khemia, as it was then known, and compiled a 28 volume encylopedia.

It is thanks to Zosimus that we know what we do about Egyptian/Greek alchemy. Much of the knowledge was destroyed by the Roman emperor Diocletian and Christians who burned the library in Alexandria in 391.

Geber full name: Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan ca. 721 - 815 AD

Geber, as he was known by the Europeans, was an Arabian alchemist who lived in what we now know as Iraq.

He distilled strong acetic acid from vinegar and believed that metals are made up of mercury and sulfur invarying proportions. He also popularised the idea of the Philosopher's Stone which would combine the mercury and sulfur to make gold.

Geber is responsible for giving us the word 'gibberish', derived from his name!

Albertus Magnus ca. 1200 - 1280 AD

Albert von Bollstadt, or Abertus Magnus, (which means Albert the Great) was a German monk and practising alchemist.

Magnus closely followed the works of Aristotle, giving his philosophy prominence in the Middle Ages. He was the first to describe arsenic in its pure form and Thomas Aquinas, who was later to become, among other things, a famous alchemist, was one of his students.

Paracelsus full name: Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim 1493 - 1541 AD

The Swiss born Paracelsus took his name meaning 'better than Celsus', Celsus being a renowned Roman scholar of medicine.

He invented the word alcohol from the Arabic 'al-kohl', and his own branch of alchemy called 'spagyric alchemy'.

Paracelsus strongly believed in spiritual alchemy and that the purpose of alchemy was not to transmute metals, but to cure disease.

Isaac Newton 1642 - 1727 AD

One of the last well known alchemists was the English scientist Isaac Newton.

In addition to studying more legitimate sciences such as physics and maths, Newton spent much of his time on alchemy. Indeed it has been said that Newton was not the "first of the age of reason but that he was the last of the magicians."

In rediscovered documents deemed unfit to be printed by the Royal Society, it is clear that the inspiration for his work on light and gravity came from his obsession with alchemy. It is even suggested that Newton succeeded in transmuting lead to gold...