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Products for grant FEL-272918-21

Matter Redeemed: Physics and Alchemy in Byzantium and the Islamic World
Alexandre Roberts, University of Southern California

Grant details:

Translating the Concept of Alchemy from Modern English to Medieval Greek and Arabic and Back Again (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Translating the Concept of Alchemy from Modern English to Medieval Greek and Arabic and Back Again
Author: Alexandre M. Roberts
Abstract: Many early Arabic texts gathered under the modern umbrella-term “alchemy” are translations from Greek. The Arabic technical vocabulary of such texts largely parallels the corresponding Greek vocabulary through loanwords and calques. Did this terminological correspondence translate into a similar concept of the science or art that these texts addressed? In other words, was there a stable concept of “alchemy” (whether by that we mean metallurgical know-how, chemical theory, the textual tradition concerned with gold-making or what it called the Sacred Art, or something else) in the transition from the Greek to the Arabic language and more generally from one cultural context to the other? To answer this question, the present paper will first reconsider the modern term “alchemy” itself and propose a new terminology better suited for answering such diachronic questions. It will then consider how medieval practices and thought that we often call alchemical were conceptualized in a selection of Greek and Arabic texts and manuscripts. The paper will conclude by pointing the way forward to a truly integrated diachronic history of the various practices, theories, and textual traditions grouped by modern scholarship, for better or for worse, under the name of alchemy.
Date: 11/11/2022
Conference Name: “Translating Science: 15th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age.” University of Pennsylvannia. Philadelphia

Byzantine Alchemy and the History of Science (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Byzantine Alchemy and the History of Science
Abstract: Standard narratives about the history of science from Greece to the Arabs to Europe to the Scientific Revolution have many problems. This lecture focuses one such problem, the near-total omission of the Byzantine Empire from these narratives, and considers how our Byzantine sources on what is typically called Greek alchemy can help us revise such narratives. Once we learn to read Byzantine alchemical texts with conceptual tools developed by anthropologists and historians of science over the course of the last century, it becomes clear that such texts are crucial evidence not only for how Byzantines thought about the transformation of matter but also for how we narrate the history of science in western Eurasia from antiquity to the modern era.
Author: Alexandre M. Roberts
Date: 3/2/2023
Location: online (hosted by World History Seminar, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)