Alchemy in the Temple

Liverpool Egyptology Seminar: 'Alchemy in the Temple: Contextualising the alchemist Zosimos of Panopolis in Graeco-Roman Egypt' (Dr. Marina Escolano Poveda University of Liverpool)

5:00pm - 6:00pm / Thursday 4th April 2019 / Venue: Seminar Room 10, Rendall Building
Type: Seminar / Category: Department / Series: Egyptology Seminar Series
  • Suitable for: All welcome.
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Zosimos of Panopolis inaugurated a new chapter in the history of ancient alchemy. He is not only the first alchemist for whom we have actual biographical information, but he was also one of the first attested authors whose goal was the real transmutation of metals. Moving on from the previous recipe literature, he developed a new allegorical language for the presentation of his alchemical procedures, a feature that would become characteristic of later alchemy. Zosimos’ so-called “dreams” or “Visions” (Mém. auth. X-XII) are the paradigmatic example of this new language. Their enigmatic imagery of sacrifices and priests has attracted the attention of scholars from various disciplines, from history of science to psychology, who have interpreted them in various ways.

After a brief overview of the early alchemical literature, I will focus in this lecture on the analysis of different elements in Zosimos’ works in Greek and Syriac in order to contextualize them within the Egyptian priestly milieu of the Graeco-Roman period. I will then propose a hypothetical reconstruction of the structure of Zosimos’ complete treatise, and of his identity within the context of the temples of Roman Egypt and particularly of ancient Akhmim.

Recommended bibliography:
• PRINCIPE, L. M. (2013): The Secrets of Alchemy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 9–26. [Chapter 1: Origins. Greco-Egyptian Chemeia].
• MERTENS, M. (2002): "Alchemy, Hermetism and Gnosticism at Panopolis c. 300 A.D.: the Evidence of Zosimus," in A. EGBERTS, B. P. MUHS, and J. VAN DER VLIET (eds.), Perspectives on Panopolis. An Egyptian Town from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest. Leiden–Boston–Köln: Brill, pp. 165– 175.

Edition of the Greek text:
MERTENS, M. (1995): Les alchimistes grecs. Tome IV 1re partie: Zosime de Panopolis. Mémoires authentiques. Paris: Les Belles Letres.

Unfortunately, the holdings of the SJ Library do not cover this material. To obtain a copy of the recommended readings email: or check