|Greek alchemy spread geographically with Christianity and so passed
to the Arabs, who were also party to the ideas and practices of Indian and
Chinese technologists and alchemists. In the same time, scholars were
invited to Damascus and Baghdad without distinction of nationality or creed.
Greek manuscripts were acquired in large numbers and were studied, translated
and provided with scholarly and illuminating commentaries.
The old learning was thus infused with a new vigor, and the intellectual freedom of men of the desert stimulated the search for knowledge and science.
|In early days at least, the Muslims were eager seekers for knowledge, and Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world. Historians have justly remarked that the school of Baghdad was characterized by a new scientific spirit. Proceeding from the known to the unknown; taking precise account of phenomena; accepting nothing as true which was not confirmed by experience, or established by experiment, such were fundamental principles taught and acclaimed by the then masters of the sciences.|
|First of all the word 'alchemy' is Arabic (al-klmya'). The origin of the word kimya', pre-Arabic, is arguable. Several more or less plausible or legendary hypotheses have been advanced. For some the word came from the Egyptian kemi (black), whence the Greek kemia which might indicate several things:|
|i.||Egypt, 'the black land' according to Plutarch - alchemy would be preeminently the science of Egypt;|
|ii.||'the Black', the original primary matter of transmutation;|
|iii.||the word 'chemy' could have come from the Greek khymeia, 'fusion', i.e. the art of melting gold and silver.|
Jabir ibn Haiyan (721-815 AD) (Geber)
One of his chief contributions to the theory of chemistry lies in his views upon the constitution of metals. According to Aristotle all substances are composed of the four elements, fire, air, water, and earth, which are themselves interconvertible. The immediate constituents of minerals and metals are two exhalations, one an 'earthy smoke' and the other a watery vapour'; the former consists of small particles of earth on the way to becoming fire, while the latter consists of small particles of water on the way to becoming air. Neither exhalation is ever entirely free from some admixture of the other. Stones and other minerals are formed when the two exhalations become imprisoned in the earth, the dry or smoky exhalation predominating; metals are formed under similar circumstances if the watery exhalation predominates.
Jabir accepted this theory of the constitution of metals, but appears to have regarded it as too indefinite. He therefore modified it in such a fashion as to make it less vague, and the theory he suggested survived, with some alterations and additions, until the beginning of modern chemistry in the eighteenth century. The two exhalations, he believed, when imprisoned in the bowels of the earth, are not immediately changed into minerals or metals, but undergo an intermediate conversion. The dry or smoky exhalation is converted into sulphur and the watery one into mercury, and it is only by the subsequent combination of sulphur and mercury that metals are formed. The reason of the existence of different varieties of metals is that the sulphur and mercury are not always pure, and that they do not always combine in the same proportion. If they are perfectly pure and if, also, they combine in the most complete natural equilibrium, then the product is the most perfect of metals, namely gold. Defects in purity or proportion, or both, result in the formation of silver, lead, tin, iron or copper, but since these metals are essentially composed of the same constituents as gold, the accidents of combination may be removed by suitable treatment. Such treatment is the object of alchemy.He also left instructions for making white lead (carbonate), sal ammoniac, nitric acid and sulphuric acid and that the combination of these acids, 'aqua regia' that would dissolve gold and silver. He also improved the technique of distillation that was used in the Islamic perfume industry.