Alchemy and Medicine from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

22 September 2011 - 24 September 2011

Peterhouse College, University of Cambridge


Dr Jenny Rampling (History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)


Dr Lauren Kassell (History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)
Mr Peter Jones (History and Philosophy of Science/King's College, University of Cambridge)


Conference summary

Alchemists pursued many goals, from the transmutation of metals to the preservation of health and life. These pursuits were continually informed and modified by medical knowledge, while alchemical debates about nature, generation, and the achievability of perfection in turn impacted on medicine and natural philosophy. This three-day international conference will investigate these interactions, from alchemy’s development in late antiquity to its decline throughout the eighteenth century. It will ask how alchemical and medical ideas and practices changed over time, how they reflected the experience of individual readers and practitioners, and the extent to which they responded to significant currents in intellectual, political, and social life.

Keynote lecture by Bruce T. Moran (University of Nevada at Reno)

Speakers include:

Panel themes include: Elixirs and the prolongation of life; Medicine, alchemy and patronage; The eighteenth-century transmutation of chemical medicine; Books, recipes and secrets; Medical practitioners as alchemists; Shared materials, practices and technologies; The transmission of alchemical and medical knowledge; Histories of alchemy and medicine.

Accommodation for non-paper giving participants

Conference participants can find information about accommodation in Cambridge at the following URLs:
NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.







Generously supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), University of Cambridge, the Bibliographical Society, the 'Generation to Reproduction' strategic award, supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, the Society for History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC), the Society for Renaissance Studies and the British Society for History of Science.



Thursday, 22 September



13.50 - 14.00

Welcome and Introduction

14.00 - 16.00

Panel 1: Disciplinary identities I: medical practitioners as alchemists

Chair: Andrew Wear (University College London)

Bink Hallum (University of Warwick): An Islamic physician’s reading of the alchemical classics: the Book of Testimonies from al-R?z?’s Twelve Books

Peter M. Jones (University of Cambridge):Alchemical remedies of an English royal physician: John Argentein, c.1443–1508

Hiro Hirai (Radboud University Nijmegen): Alchemy and medicine in Joseph Du Chesne’s De priscorum materia (1603)

Adeline Gasnier (Université de Tours): Iatrochemistry vs. medical orthodoxy: a vain attempt to reconcile both doctrines at the medical Faculty of Paris (1603–1609)

16.00 - 16.30 

Tea and coffee

16.30 - 18.80 

Panel 2: Shared materials, practices and apparatus

Chair: Karin Ekholm (University of Cambridge)

Andrew Cunningham (University of Cambridge): Mercury, medicine and alchemy

Valentina Pugliano (University of Oxford): Of resins and waters: the simple alchemy of Renaissance apothecaries

Donna Bilak (Bard Graduate Center, New York): The laboratory construct of John Allin, Puritan alchemist in Restoration London

18.00 - 20.00 

Simon Forman Quatercentenary Reception (sponsored by the Casebooks Project) 


Friday, 23 September

09.00 - 10.30

Panel 3: Medicine, alchemy and patronage

Chair tbc

Jennifer Rampling (University of Cambridge): The ‘vegetable stone’ and alchemical patronage in Tudor England

Rafa? T. Prinke (Eugeniusz Piasecki University in Pozna?): Medicine, alchemy and patronage in late sixteenth century Prague: a microhistory

Tuna Artun (Princeton University): Alchemy and medicine at the Ottoman Court in the reign of Murad IV

10.30 - 11.00 

Tea and coffee  

11.00 - 13.00 

Panel 4: Prolongation of life

Chair/commentator: Peter M. Jones (King’s College, Cambridge)

Nancy Siraisi (City University of New York): Human lifespan, length of life, and the powers of Galenic medicine: issues and approaches in some fourteenth- to early seventeenth-century accounts

Chiara Crisciani (Università degli Studi di Pavia): Elixir and radical moisture in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century alchemy

Jo Hedesan (University of Exeter): Recovering the Arbor Vitae: medical prolongation of life in early modern alchemy

13.00  - 14.15


14.15  - 16.15

Panel 5: Disciplinary identities II: the transmutation of chemical medicine

Chair: Hasok Chang (University of Cambridge)

William R. Newman (Indiana University, Bloomington): Isaac Newton and chymical medicine

Cécilia Bognon-Küss (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne): Explaining digestion and assimilation : from fermentation to « chylification » in 18th century medicine and philosophy

Emma Spary (University of Cambridge): The chemistry of flavours in Paris, circa 1730

16.15 - 16.45

Tea and coffee

16.45 - 17.45


Keynote lecture

Bruce Moran (University of Nevada at Reno): Scheide – Kunst: art and agency at the crossroads of early modern alchemy and medicine

17.45 - 18.45

Roundtable discussion

Chair: Lauren Kassell (University of Cambridge)

Conference dinner


Saturday, 24 September

09.00 - 10.30

Panel 6: Books, recipes and secrets

Chair/commentator: Anke Timmermann (Medical University of Vienna)

Peter J. Grund (University of Kansas): ‘Master, I pray youe Enform me of the Errors in philosophie’: Scoller and Master and the transmission of alchemical dialogues in medieval and early modern England

Elaine Leong (University of Warwick): Tweaking as creating: recipes and knowledge production in early modern England

Margaret D. Garber (California State University, Fullerton): Circulating the secrets of the Alkahest within the culture of curiosities

10.30 - 11.00 

Tea and coffee 

11.00 - 13.00 

Panel 7: Transmission of alchemical and medical knowledge

Chair: tbc

Matteo Martelli (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin): Alchemy and medicine in Graeco-Roman Egypt: the four books by Ps.-Democritus

Gabriele Ferrario (Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge): Materia alchemica and materia medica in medieval Islamic lands. New evidence from the Cairo Genizah 

Sébastien Moureau (Université de Nancy 2): New investigations about the link between the De anima in arte alchemiae and Roger Bacon: alchemical and medical doctrines

Didier Kahn (CNRS, Paris): The Apocalypsis spiritus secreti between John of Rupescissa, Hermes, and Paracelsus

13.00 - 14.15


14.15 - 16.15 

Panel 8: Histories of alchemy and medicine

Chair tbc

Michela Pereira (Università di Siena): Elixirs East and West

Lawrence Principe (Johns Hopkins University): The Chymist and the Physician: Rivalry and Conflict at the Académie Royale des Sciences

John R. R. Christie (Universities of Oxford and Leeds): Alchemical retrospects: historical self-consciousness in eighteenth-century chemistry

16.15 - 16.30

Closing remarks: Jennifer Rampling (University of Cambridge)