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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Project description

Alchemy and Medicine in Graeco-Roman Egypt

Up until now my research has focused first of all on the origins of Greco-Egyptian ‘alchemy’, with particular attention to the works of the earlier authors and to the first definitions of the discipline. I have prepared a new critical edition – with Italian translation and commentary – of the Pseudo-Democritus books ‘Natural and Secret Things’ and ‘The making of silver’ and of the dialogue between Synesius and Dioscorus, which will be soon published into the collection “Textes et Travaux de Chrysopoeia” (Paris/Milan, CNRS Paris). In order to better accomplish this work, I have started to analyze also the Eastern tradition of such treatises, by taking into account especially some Syriac anthologies of alchemical texts ascribed to the same Pseudo-Democritus and to Zosimus (in particular, the codex Mm. 6.29 kept at the Cambridge University Library).

At the moment, I’m trying to widen the scope of my inquiry to the relationships between Greco-Egyptian alchemy and medicine. In fact, while several studies exist on the relationship between these disciplines during the Medieval and Modern times, their connection has not yet been systematically researched with regard to the Greek Texts of Antiquity (1st-4th c.). My aim is to investigate such a topic in a double way. On the one hand, I will focus my attention on the most ancient alchemical authors – Ostanes, Democritus, Zosimus – who show a particular interest in medicine an pharmacology, which are evocated several time to describe and explain different alchemical processes. On the other hand, the clear similarity between the substances employed in both these sciences allow us to take into account the most important Greek pharmacological works – in primis Dioscorides’ De material medica and Galen’s De simplicium medicamentorum temperamentis ac facultatibus – which has been partially included into the same alchemical collections handed down both by some Greek and Syriac manuscripts.