Alexandre Roberts (University of Southern California), Disentangling Alchemy. Co-sponsored by the Committee on Medieval Studies and the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at Hellenic College-Holy Cross. This event will take place on the Zoom meeting platform; registration will open on 7 March at the Jaharis Center website.
What was alchemy in Byzantium and the Islamic World, in a time before the terms “alchemy” and “chemistry” were divided from each other for polemical purposes in the seventeenth century? Building on a rich and growing body of work on ancient, medieval, and early-modern alchemy, this lecture will consider premodern Greek and Arabic texts of the sort that we typically call alchemical, and artisanal and intellectual practices that we typically call alchemy. The aim will be to disentangle the various threads running through these premodern texts and practices, which we can then begin to reintegrate into their original social, cultural, and intellectual contexts. Liberating chemical theory, metal-planet correspondences, divine revelations, and metallurgical techniques from the umbrella term “alchemy” that at once gathers and isolates them in the modern historian’s imagination will allow us to situate them within the larger world of intellectual and artisanal activity of western Afro-Eurasia, and to explore what they meant — and why they mattered — then and now.