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ANONYMOUS ON ALCHEMY, ARISTOTLE, AND CREATION: AN UNEDITED THIRTEENTH-CENTURY TEXT By JOHN R. CLARK Around the year 1200 there appeared a Latin translation of Pseudo-Aristotle 's De mineralibus, in which the author denied the possibility of the transmutation of metals.' This statement, especially when placed in the mouth of the revered Aristotle, was a severe blow to the aim of the alchemists . Indeed it had been Aristotle's theory of the generation of metals in his Meteorológica and his theory of a common origin of all metals that had encouraged the alchemists in their efforts to transmute base metals into gold.2 This pseudo-Aristotelian challenge to the truth of alchemy seems to have elicited at least one previously unrecognized response. In a short treatise , tucked away in a sixteenth-century manuscript of alchemical miscellany , an anonymous author quotes "Aristotle" saying that the species of metals cannot be transformed or transmuted, but includes the proviso, also taken from Aristotle: unless they be reduced to their primary matter.3 This materia prima is identified by our author as the moistness that comes from water, water whose creative power our author grounds in Holy Scripture, 1 See William Newman, "Technology and Alchemical Debate in the Late Middle Ages," Isis 80 (1989): 427, "Our story begins with the English translator Alfred of Sareshel, who around 1200 translated a meteorological section of the Persian philosopher Avicenna's (980-1037) KMb al-Shifä' (The Book of Remedy) and inserted it into the fourth book of Aristotle's Meteorológica, already translated by Henricus Aristippus. This short text, which came to be known in Latin as De congelatione et conglutinaiione lapidum, immediately acquired the authority of a genuine Aristotelian production, since it appeared to be the conclusion of the Meteorológica'!, fourth book. It became thereby the locus classicus for all subsequent attacks on alchemy, and virtually any alchemical writer — whether philosophically sophisticated or not — felt obliged to respond to the arguments of 'Aristotle' (i.e., Avicenna)." See Charles B. Schmitt and Dilwyn Knox, Pseudo-Aristoteles Latinus: A Guide to Latin Works Falsely Attributed Io Aristotle before 1500 (London, 1985), 43-44, §59 De mineralibus. ~ Newman ("Technology," 425) writes, "In fact, the alchemy of the late Middle Ages was a perfectly reasonable and sober offshoot of Aristotle's theory of matter." See also John Read, Prelude to Chemistry: An Outline of Alchemy, 2nd ed. (orig. publ. 1939; repr. Cambridge , MA, 1966), 9-19, 120; and D. E. Eichholz, "Aristotle's Theory of the Formation of Metals and Minerals," Classical Quarterly 43 (1949): 141-46. This proviso, "unless they be reduced to their primary matter," was included in Alfred of Sareshel's Latin text, but not in the original Arabic, according to the edition of E. J. Hohnyard and D. C. Mandeville, Avicennae De congelatione et conglutinaiione lapidum (Paris, 1927), 42 and n. 6. 150TRADITIO especially in the hexaemeral tradition of the story of creation from the book of Genesis. The text may be found in MS CIm 26059, now in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek , Munich. The treatise was overlooked by the cataloguers, who listed excerpts from the third book of Marsilio Ficino's De vita as extending from fols. 277 to 289.4 While preparing a critical edition of Ficino's text, I discovered that the Ficino selections actually concluded on fol. 284v, immediately followed by the new treatise on fol. 284v, with the words, "Cum multi sint in desperatione," and ending with "benedictus amen" on fol. 289v.5 The only intimation that a new text has begun is the rubricated initial C. There is no explicit to mark the end of the Ficino excerpts, nor is there a rubricated title for the new work. This is not, strictly speaking, an unusual way for this manuscript to introduce a new section, since seven other sections do begin in this fashion, although four of these seven follow a formal explicit. Six of the more than forty pieces in this manuscript, indeed, begin with no title or rubricated capital at all. The manuscript, CIm 26059, paper, 104x143mm, 1507-8, fols. I-V and 320, is, as I have said, a miscellany of traditional alchemical materials from...


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