Man's physical universe



tessence plus hotness and dryness.

for nearly eighteen centuries.

Aristotle's teachings were accepted

The Alchemists Learned Many Things about the Chemical Properties

of Matter.

About three centuries before Christ, Alexandria began to replace

Athens as the intellectual center of the ancient world. The Egyptians

had long practiced the art of preparing cheap alloys which resembled

silver and gold. Under Aristotle's influence, the idea gradually developed

that, with the proper essence, base metals such as lead could

actually be changed into gold. Many people began experimenting to

find this essence.

It was, of course, never discovered, but some experimenters

actually succeeding in preparing materials that resembled

gold and probably believed that they had discovered the important

essence. Many other experimenters were outright fakers. When one

considers how the "patent medicines" industry flourishes today, he

can understand why these alchemists were able to exist and even secure

the support of kings and rulers in those dark ages of ignorance and

.superstition. It should be noted, however, that a tremendous amount

of knowledge accumulated as a result of these experiments.

In the seventh century a.d. the Arabs conquered Egypt, and alchemy

became an Arabian art. One of the outstanding Arabian alchemists,

Geber (721-813), believed that all metals were composed of sulfur and

mercury. His influence was still felt as late as 1500 a.d., when Paracelsus

(1493-1541) held that the three elements — earth, air, and

water — were represented by salt, sulfur, and mercury, respectively.

Paracelsus was the first of the iatrochemists, that is, the chemists who

devoted their lives to the search for medicines to cure disease. From

his time, the alchemists came to be recognized as rogues, and alchemy

acquired a bad reputation. At the same time, the iatrochemists worked

earnestly and honestly to obtain new substances that would benefit

humanity. Paracelsus described these workers as follows:

They are not given to idleness, or go in a proud habit, or plush and velvet

garments, often showing their rings on their fingers, or wearing swords with

silver hilts by their sides, or fine and gay gloves on their hands but diligently

follow their labors, sweating whole days and nights by their furnaces. They

do not spend their time abroad for recreation but take delight in their laboratories.

They put their fingers among coals, into clay and filth, not into gold

rings. They are sooty and black, like smiths and miners, and do not pride

themselves upon clean and beautiful faces.

The history of alchemy and the iatrochemical period is of great

interest, but we must now turn to the early discoveries concerning the

nature of matter made by the pioneers of modern chemistry.

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