Zeno of Elea (342-270
|Zeno founded the post-Aristotlian philosophy of
Stoicism. This lasted from the 4th century BC to the 1st century AD.
Stoicism keep Aristotle's indefinite divisibility of matter.
Stoics laid stress on the analogy of macrocosm and microcosm, the heavens
and the earth, and distinguished between inert matter and a more active form
called 'pneuma', the vital spirit. Pneuma pervaded the whole cosmos
and brought about generation as well as decay. Ordinary substances,
as Empedocles and Aristotle had taught, were composed from the four elements.
albeit hot and dry, & fire and water were more active than passive wet
and cold, & water and earth. From this is was but a short step
to interpreting air and fire as forms of pneuma, and pneuma as the glue or
force that bound passive earth and water into cohesive substances. The concept
was to have a profound effect on the interpretation of distillation.
| Chemical compounds were mixtures
of these four elements in varying proportions. The central theorem of
alchemy, transmutation, could be seen in one of two ways, either as what
we would call chemical change caused by the different proportions of
elements and their rearrangement, or as a real transmutation in which the
qualities of the elements are transforms. Alchemy allowed far
more 'transmutations' than later chemistry was to allow, for it permitted
the transmutation of lead or common metals into gold or some other precious
metal. A real transmutation of lead into gold was to be achieved by
stripping lead of its qualities and replanting the base matter that
was left with the qualities and attributes of gold.
| Although Aristotle had
never meant by 'prime matter' a tangible stuff that could be separated from
substances, this is certainly how later alchemists came to think of
it. Similarly the tactile qualities became substantial forms and
frequently identified with the aerial or liquid products of distillation,
| In gold-making, much use of analogy
was made. Since there is a cycle of death an regrowth in Nature from
the seed, its growth, decay and regeneration as seed once more, the
alchemist can work by analogy. Lead is taken and "killed" to remove
its form and to produce the primary matter. the new substance is then regrown
on this primary matter compost. In the case of gold, its form
is impressed by planting a seed of gold on the unformed matter. To
grow this seed, warmth and moisture were requisite, and to perform the process,
apparatus of various kinds - stills, furnaces, beakers, and baths -
were required, much of it readily available from artisans or readily adapted
from existing apparatus.