The Three Books on Alchemy by Geber, the Great Philosopher and Alchemist


Jābir ibn Hayyan (also known by his Latinized name Geber, circa 721–815) was a contemporary of the first Abbasids, who ruled circa 750–800, and one of the principal proponents of alchemy in the early Islamic period. The earliest biography of Jābir, in al-Fihrist, was written in the tenth century by Ibn al-Nadīm, a scholar and bibliographer living in Baghdad. It contains a fair number of legendary elements, although the list of works attributed to Jābir in this work has been shown by external evidence to be generally correct. The entire body of literature attributed to Jābir, comprising works on alchemy, philosophy, astrology, mathematics, music, medicine, magic, and religion, could not, however, have been the work of a single person. Neither could it have been compiled prior to the end of the ninth century, as indicated by the fact that scientific terminology used in the Jābirean corpus was introduced by Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq al-ʻIbādī (circa 809–73). The Islamic Gnosticism present in the works of Jābir is of the type that was common at the end of the ninth century, another indication that some of the works attributed to him probably date from this period. These works provide a window into the Islamic Gnosticism of the late ninth century and shed light on classical Greek scientific texts, many of which do not survive in the original. Jābir’s alchemical works include descriptions of distillation, calcification, dissolution, crystallization, and other chemical operations that subsequently were used in the Islamic world and in Europe for centuries. Several works of the Jābirean corpus have been translated into Latin. The present work was written in three parts, covering the properties of metals, alchemical techniques, and the properties of the planets. It was printed in 1531 by Johann Grüninger, a German printer and publisher working in Strasbourg. The work starts with an esoteric poem (“Est fons in limis cuius anguis latet in imis…”) that forms the incipit for an alchemical work kept in the Bavarian State Library, Codex Latinus Monacensis 2848. (The latter manuscript is purportedly a Latin translation of a work on the philosopher’s stone by the Persian alchemist Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā Rāzī.)

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Johann Grüninger, Strasbourg


Title in Original Language

Geberi philosophi ac alchimistae maximi De alchimia libri tres eiusdem liber investigationis perfecti magisterij, artis alchimicae

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60 leaves : illustrations ; 28 centimeters

Last updated: April 3, 2018