Union Académique Internationale

Humanities and Social Sciences International Association Founded in 1919

Alchimic Texts

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The history of this project dates back to the publication by Marcellin Berthelot and Charles-Emile Ruelle of the Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, 3 vols, Paris, 1887-1888 (CAAG). Berthelot emphasized the scientific interest of this editing and publishing project based on an exceptional corpus: « There is a collection of Greek manuscripts in most of the great libraries of Europe, very important for the history of natural sciences, of metal and pottery technology, as well as for the history of philosophical ideas in the first centuries of the Christian era: it is the collection of alchemical manuscripts, unpublished until now. <...>. This Corpus of Greek Alchemists was formed around the eighth or ninth century AD, in Constantinople, by Byzantine scholars of the order of Photius and by compilers of the 53 series of Constantin Porphyrogenetus, scholars who transmitted us in analogous forms the remains of Greek science. The authors it contains are cited by the Arabs, especially in the Kitab al-Fihrist, as the source of their knowledge in chemistry. By this means they became the origin of the works of Western scholars in the Middle Ages, and consequently the initial point of origin for the discoveries of modern chemistry. Because of this connection, their publication offers great importance. They also contain a multitude of processes and technical recipes, likely to shed a new light on the manufacture of glasses, alloys and ancient metals, a subject so far so obscure and so controversial in the history of large industries. »

Berthelot and Ruelle thus provided the researchers with a remarkable collection of alchemical texts. At the same time, Berthelot stressed the need for further research by examining the alchemical manuscripts of European libraries which the publishers had not been able to examine. The project of a Catalogue of Greek Alchemical Manuscripts naturally followed the work of Berthelot and Ruelle. On the proposal of Joseph Bidez, it was adopted by the Union Académique Internationale in 1924. Its purpose was to make the inventory and the description of the alchemical manuscripts. This work was carried out in the form of a Catalogue des manuscrits alchimiques grecs, 8 vols, Bruxelles, 1924-1932.

As R. Saffrey writes in the introduction to the first volume of the Alchimistes grecs :

« ... from the beginning, in the mind of Joseph Bidez, the purpose of the project was to search and describe the alchemical manuscripts in order to edit the texts, to study them, to draw various lessons from them. J. Bidez was able to realize the first stage of this valorous project thanks to the admirable gathering, around him, of the best possible collaborators: Henri Lebègue, Armand Delatte, Marie Delcourt, C.O. Zuretti, Otto Lagercrantz, D.W. Singer, G. Goldschmidt and J.L. Heiberg. <...> When the war came in 1939, the eight volumes describing the alchemical manuscripts of the major libraries of Europe were published...»

The current project, Textes alchimiques, is a continuation of this invaluable work and aims to provide new critical and updated editions, meeting current scientific requirements. In 1968, the Rev. André Festugière proposed to undertake the edition of Greek alchemical texts. The initial program, proposed by Father Saffrey and published in the first volume of the Alchimistes grecs, contained 12 volumes to appear in the Collection des Universités de France (Collection Budé).

From this initial program, to date (November 2018), four volumes have been published.

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