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Alchemy and Medicine from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

  • 2011-09-22
  • 2011-09-24
  • Cambridge
CRASSH and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge 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. Alchemical texts circulated in print and manuscript; in courts, in households, and in the marketplace, both reflecting and contributing to debates about the body and the natural world. Alchemy was studied by physicians, clerics, natural philosophers, merchants, artisans and aristocrats; some drawn toward theoretical speculation, others towards empirical practice. This three-day international conference, held at Peterhouse, Cambridge, 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 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, religious, and social life.

Plenary speakers include: * Chiara Crisciani (Università degli Studi di Pavia) * Andrew Cunningham (University of Cambridge) * Hiro Hirai (Radboud University Nijmegen) * Didier Kahn (CNRS, Paris) * Bruce T. Moran (University of Nevada at Reno) * William R. Newman (Indiana University) * Michela Pereira (Università di Siena) * Lawrence M. Principe (JohnsHopkins University) * Nancy Siraisi (City University of New York) * Emma Spary (University of Cambridge) Proposals for 20 minute papers are welcomed, and the participation of postgraduate students and junior researchers is particularly encouraged (with student bursaries available).

Topics might include, but are not limited, to:
  • * Transmission of alchemical and medical knowledge
  • * Elixirs and the prolongation of life
  • * Impact of alchemical remedies on medical practice
  • * Paracelsus, Van Helmont and their followers
  • * Shared ingredients, methods and apparatus
  • * Medical practitioners as alchemists
  • * Use of medical concepts in alchemy
  • * Medicine, alchemy and patronage
  • * Iatrochemistry vs. medical orthodoxy
  • * Charlatanry and fraud
  • * Books, recipes, and secrets

Provisional Programme

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 TestimoniesTwelve Books from al-Rāzī’s
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)
Peter J. Forshaw (Universiteit van Amsterdam): “Medicina Hermetica”: The early modern promotion of a specifically Hermeticall Physick

16.00 - 16.30

Tea and coffee

16.30 - 18.80

Panel 2: Shared materials, practices and apparatus

Chair tbc

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

Rafał T. Prinke (University of Poznań): Medicine, alchemy and patronage in late sixteenth century Prague: a microhistory
Daniel Jütte (University of Heidelberg/ Harvard University): Jews, alchemy and medicine in the early modern period: myth and reality
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): Title tbc
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 the “fermentationist” view to the vitalist “chylification” theory in the French Enlightenment
Emma Spary (University of Cambridge): The chemistry of flavours in Paris, circa 1730
Paula De Vos (San Diego State University): The influence of medical alchemy on pharmaceutical practice in the Spanish Empire

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): Friends and foes: medical applications and chymical theories at the seventeenth-century Academie 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)
The language of the conference is English. For further information, please contact: Jennifer Rampling (jmr82 at
Organised by Jennifer Rampling, Peter M. Jones and Lauren Kassell (Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge), and supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CRASSH).

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