Pseudo-Democritus (first century CE)

Matteo Martelli – Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities


The Graeco-Egyptian and Byzantine traditions closely link the earliest phases of alchemy to the name of Democritus, the Greek philosopher from Abdera, mainly known as the founder of ancient atomism (c. 460 – 370 BCE). Ancient alchemists unanimously attribute to the philosopher four books on dyeing, namely a book on the making of gold, a book on the making of silver, a book on the making of precious stones, and a book on purple dyes. What survives of these four books ranks among the most ancient examples of Western alchemical writing. Their attribution to the historical Democritus is obviously unreliable, so that the anonymous author of alchemy is commonly referred to by the name of Pseudo-Democritus. 

Pseudo-authorship is indeed a tool often used (especially in alchemical literature) to remove a book from the historical context in which it was produced, projecting it back to a remote and more authoritative past. The attribution of alchemical books to Democritus did certainly represent a successful strategy, as demonstrated by later texts still attributed to the philosopher in the Byzantine and Syriac traditions. A Byzantine manuscript, for instance, hands down a Fifth Book by Democritus Addressed to Leucippus (Berthelot-Ruelle1887, vol. 2, 53-56), which scholars do not attribute to the same author of the four books and commonly consider as a later composition. This entry will focus only on the author of the four alchemical books of the first century, by investigating (1) the reasons behind their attribution to the philosopher Democritus, (2) the possible identification (or relationship) of their author with the Egyptian polymath Bolos of Mendes, and, finally (3) their structure and date.


1. Democritus the Alchemist

2. A Tentative Identification: The Question of Bolos of Mendes

3. The Alchemical Four Books and Their Date

4. Bibliography


1. Democritus the Alchemist 

The alchemical sources depict Democritus as a Greek philosopher who was taught alchemy by a Persian magus, and mainly operated in Egypt. The alchemist Synesius (fourth century CE), a commentator on Pseudo-Democritus’s alchemical writings, explicitly identifies the author of the four books with the philosopher of Abdera, who, after investigating all the natural questions (ta physika), was initiated into the alchemical art by the magus Ostanes in temple of Memphis with all the Egyptian priests (Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 56 = Martelli 2013, 122-123). A later Byzantine chronicle (Syncellus, Chronography 297,24-28 Mosshammer) includes the name of other alchemists among Ostanes’ pupils in Memphis, in particular Maria the Prophetess and the Egyptian Pammenes (see below, section 3).  

In his book on gold making, Pseudo-Democritus himself claims to have travelled to Egypt, in the section in which he explained how to deal with natural substances. Democritus is said to have been “friend of the Egyptian kings and to have held a high position among the prophets” (Zosimus, First Book of the Final Quittance; see Festugière 1944, vol. 1, 364). In his alchemical works, he probably addressed Egyptian kings and priests (see Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 427), and included himself among the ‘prophets’ (Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 47 = Martelli 2013, 95). In the late Hellenistic period, the term ‘prophet’ (prophētēs) – often applied to early alchemists, such as Maria, Moses or Isis (Mertens 1989) – referred not only to high-ranking Egyptian priests, but could also indicate any wise figure expert in different (sometimes presumably sacred) areas of knowledge, from magic to botany (Festugière 1949, 380; Boscherini 2007). 

Within this Egyptian framework, Persia too plays a pivotal role in the legendary narrative that reinvented Democritus as an alchemist. The philosopher, in fact, is said to have inherited a tripartite formula on the powers of nature from the Persian magus Ostanes. This formula summarized Ostanes’ alchemical teaching and somehow guided the practice of his pupil.  According to a long narrative included in what has been preserved of the four alchemical books (Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 42-43 = Martelli 2013, 81-85), the master Ostanes died before Pseudo-Democritus completed his alchemical training. Despite his attempts to evoke the spirit of the master from the Ades, Pseudo-Democritus was unable to learn the last secrets, until a prodigious event in an unnamed Egyptian temple (presumably Memphis): a column collapsed, and Pseudo-Democritus found inside the tripartite aphorism on nature: “Nature delights in nature, nature conquers nature, nature masters nature.” A segment of this aphorism closes each recipe of Pseudo-Democritus’s books on gold and silver making (see below, section 3). 

As is clear from this short summary, atomism is never mentioned in what survives of ancient alchemical writings, so that this philosophical theory does not provide us with a safe background to the attribution of the alchemical books to Democritus. On the contrary, the alchemical tradition reshaped the figure of the atomist philosopher according to different patterns that were quite popular in the late Hellenistic period. 

On the one hand, the Egyptian and Persian elements of the alchemical story fit the late Hellenistic image of Democritus: the philosopher was, indeed, represented as a kind of ‘globetrotter,’ who visited Egypt to learn geometry, went to Babylonia, and travelled as far as India, where he was educated by the famous gymnosophists (see, e.g., Diog. Laert. IX.35). A relationship between the atomist and a certain Eastern wisdom had been already suggested by various sources as early as the second to the first century BCE. Hermippus’ work On Magi probably started this trend, which emphasized the debt of Greek philosophers to foreign wisdom, thus reacting against a certain Heliocentric bias of Greek classical historiography (Bidez-Cumont 1938, vol. 1, 167-168; Ribichini 2001).       

On the other hand, Democritus’s alchemical skills seem to be part of a wider range of technical competences, which Hellenistic and Roman authors tended to attribute to the atomist. Democritus was also praised for his expertise in different ‘crafts’ (tēchnai), such as various medical areas (Gemelli Marciano 2007, 213-224), agriculture (Wellmann 1921), military art, and the like. The catalogue of Democritus’s writings compiled by the Neo-Pythagorean philosopher Trasyllus (first century BCE – fist century CE; see Tarrant 1993, 85-98) and included at the end of Diogenes Laertius’s Life of the atomist (Diog. Laert. IX.48) lists eight titles under the heading tēchnika (i.e. ‘books on technical arts’): four books on medicine (touching upon prognosis, regimen and critical times), a book On Farming, a book On Painting and two writings on warfare. The authenticity of these treatises – of which we often know just the titles or, in some cases, a few scattered fragments – is still debated among scholars (see, e.g., Lezl 2007, 40-41). Despite this uncertainty, the catalogue certainly illustrates the kinds of expertise Democritus was credited with. For example, as far as medicine is concerned, other sources confirm this picture. The Hippocratic letters depict the philosopher dissecting animals to discover the origins of madness (Letter 17; see Smith 1990, 73-79), while a recipe-book preserved in a papyrus from Tebtunis (PTebt. II 273, second century CE) records a collyrium attributed to the atomist (col. 12, l. 12; see Hanson 2009, 98). As late as the sixth-seventh century, in his Miracles (Thaumata) Sophronius still mentions the medicines of Democritus, Hippocrates and Galen (Petit 2016), thus keeping alive the image drawn by Petroniust: “Democritus extracted the juice of every plant on earth, and spent his whole life in experiments to discover the virtues of stones and twigs” (Satyricon 88,23; translation by Heseltine 1913, 174). 

It is not entirely clear from the context whether the ‘virtues’ experimented with by Democritus pertained to the pharmacological properties of the tested substances or to their dyeing applications. If Hershbell believed that the interest of the historical Democritus in colour theory and metals might justify the later attribution of alchemical books to him (Hershbell1984; Halleux 1974, 74-79), the alchemical papyrus of Stockholm (third to fourth century CE) explicitly links the name of the Greek philosopher to a related, yet more practical field: dyeing methods in metallurgy. According to the second recipe of the papyrus, a certain Anaxilaus attributed to Democritus a technique for whitening copper by threating it with kollyria made of salt, vinegar and lamellose alum (PHolm. 2 in Halleux 1981, 110). Scholars tentatively identified this Anaxilaus with the neo-Pythagorean magician Anaxilaus of Larissa, who is said to have been expelled from Rome in 28 CE (St. Jerome, Chronicle 163,26 – 164,2 Helm; see Wellmann 1928, 51-53; Halleux 1981, 67-70; contra Letrouit 1995, 18). Some fragments of Anaxilaus actually describe mirabilia that are comparable with the ‘jocular recipes’ or ‘tricks’ (Paignia in Greek) attributed to Democritus in a fourth-fifth century papyrus nowadays kept in London (PLond. 121, col. V 1-19; see Betz 1986, 119). Therefore, if the identification of Anaxilaus were correct, the attribution of dyeing metallurgical techniques to Democritus would date to the early first century CE. 

A few decades afterwards, Seneca did reassert the link between the figure of Democritus and similar areas of expertise. The Roman philosopher, in fact, disagrees with the Kulturgeschichte promoted by the Stoic philosopher Posidonius (c. 135 – 55 BCE), who emphasized the contribution that ancient philosophers and wise men were supposed to have made to technological innovations. According to Posidonius, Democritus was credited with the invention of the arch (see fr. 284 Edelstein-Kidd), while Seneca adds further discoveries falsely attributed to the atomist: “Democritus discovered how ivory could be softened, how, by boiling, a pebble could be transformed into an emerald – the same process is used even today for colouring stones which are found to be amenable to this treatment” (Epistle XC.33; translation by Mott Gummere 1920, 420). Even though Seneca did not trust this information, it confirms the reputation that Democritus gained in fields closely related to alchemy. The reference to the making of artificial emeralds, in particular, recalls the topic of Pseudo-Democritus’s third book, which dealt with gemstones (see below, section 3). 


2. A Tentative Identification: The Question of Bolos of Mendes

The second century Roman grammarian Aulus Gellius clearly pointed out that many authors exploited the reputation and authority of Democritus, circulating their own writings under the name of the atomist (Attic Nights X.12,8). The real name of one of these forgers is actually known: Bolos, an enigmatic figure from the Egyptian city of Mendes. In his treatise On Agriculture (VII.5,17), Columella (first century CE) claims that the remarkable Egyptian author Bolos of Mendes published his own inventions (commenta) under the pseudonym of Democritus. 

Max Wellmann was among the first scholars to rediscover the figure of Bolos and he tended to attribute the greater part of Pseudo-Democritean production—including the alchemical books—to the author from Mendes (see Wellmann 1921 and 1928). Following Wellmann’s pioneering studies, many scholars continued to discuss the possible role of Bolos in the early phases of alchemy: while Wihlelm Kroll or Jean Letrouit, for instance, denied any identification between Bolos and the Pseudo-Democritean author of the four alchemical books (see Kopp 1934; Letrouit 1995, 17), a certain link between the earliest examples of alchemical writing and the Egyptian author is generally admitted in secondary literature (Halleux 1985, 73-74).  The question will be approached here from two points of view: first, I will discuss the proposed attribution of Pseudo-Democritus’s four alchemical books to Bolos of Mendes; then, I will scrutinize the possible alchemical character of the writings that secondary sources ascribe to the Egyptian author.

As we shall discuss in the next section, the four alchemical books of Pseudo-Democritus date to the first century CE. Therefore, the identification of their author with Bolos of Mendes is chronologically impossible. Scholars, in fact, agree in dating Bolos to the third-second century BCE, or, according to a recent up-to-date study, between 260 and 110 BCE (Gaillard-Seux 2009). In a fragment preserved in Stephanus of Byzantium’s Ethnika (book 1, s.v. apsynthos), Bolos referred to the ninth book of Theophrastus’s Enquiry into Plants, which must be identified as a late patchwork. The book, in fact, was added to the previous eight books of the Enquiry only in the second half of the third century BCE; it was composed by an anonymous reviser (perhaps Neleus of Scepsis), who combined and reshaped two originally separate short books by Theophrastus (see Amigues 2006, vi-lvii).  On the other hand, Bolos must probably be counted among the sources of the Marvellous Accounts by Apollonius the Paradoxographer, which likely date to the first century BCE (see, e.g., Giannini 1966, 377; Laurenti 1985, 91-96). Moreover, if we identify the Democritus mentioned in a fragment of Crateuas with Bolos of Mendes (fr. 8 in Wellmann 1906, vol. 3, 146), we can reasonably confirm this terminus ante quem for Bolos’s work: Crateuas, in fact, was physician to Mithridates VI Eupator (120-63 BCE). 

Medicine, indeed, represented an important area of interest for Bolos of Mendes, at least according to the information preserved in secondary sources. In the lists of titles preserved in two entries that the Byzantine lexicon Suda devoted to Bolos (β 481 and 482 Adler), we recognize at least two works related to this topic: On Medical Art (Iatrikē technē), which included the description of all the natural remedies; and On Natural Active Substances (Physika dynamera), which dealt with the sympathies and antipathies between animals, plants and stones. Further sources confirm the circulation of a book, On Sympathies and Antipathies, that was attributed either to Bolos or to Democritus. According to a scholiumin Nicander’s Theriaca (764a 4-9 Grugnola), in this work Bolos explained how Persians tried to bring a poisonous tree into Egypt, in order to kill as many Egyptians as possible. However, when transplanted, the plant started producing sweet and healthy fruits. On the other hand, Tatian attributes the book On Sympathies and Antipathies to Democritus (see also Columella, On Agriculture XI.3,64). In his Speech against the Greeks (§ 17) he rejects Democritus’s remedies, which were based on disgusting ingredients (such as human body parts), since they were prepared according to the instructions of his master, the Persian magus Ostanes. These elements clearly fit the late Hellenistic image of Democritus described above, which emphasized the technical knowledge of the philosopher along with his debt to Eastern teachers. Moreover, the suggestion of a relationship between Bolos’s writings and Persian magi is confirmed by the information we have on another book not mentioned in the Suda. According to Columella (On Agriculture VII.5,27),  Bolos was the author of a work entitled Cheirokmēta (Artificial Substances; literally ‘hand-made things’). Pliny the Elder emphasized the botanical content of this treatise (which he attributed, however, to Democritus). Thirteen magical-medical plants were described there, all of Eastern (especially Persian) origins, and each one associated with its magical name (Natural History XXIV.166). Both Wellmann and Bidez-Cumont assumed that Bolos took this information from books circulating under the names of Persian magi, either Zoroaster or Ostanes (Wellmann 1928, 14-15; Bidez-Cumont 1938, vol. 1, 117-119).

Regrettably, the ancient sources do not provide us with more precise information about the kinds of arts (technai) that were covered by Bolos’s work. Vitruvius (On Architecture IX praef. 14,6-9) adds that the author of the Cheirokmēta personally tested what was described in his book On Nature (physika). The latter title might be identified with On Natural Active Substances (Physika dynamera) mentioned in the lexicon Suda, and the Cheirokmēta with a collection of personal notes on those substances with which Bolos personally ‘experimented’. However, no further details are provided that might link Bolos’s expertise to more specific areas, such as dyeing techniques, metallurgy, and the making of fake gemstones—all areas clearly covered in Pseudo-Democritus’s four alchemical books. Therefore, the assumption that Bolos dealt with these topics and influenced the sources on Democritus discussed in the previous paragraph (in particular Seneca and the Stockholm alchemical papyrus) remains entirely hypothetical. 

Finally, scholars have more recently insisted on the alchemical nuance of the term cheirokmēta itself, which, according to the lexicon Suda (ζ 168 Adler), represented the title of a collection of alchemical books written by Zosimus of Panopolis (see, in particular, Kingsley 1994). The Graeco-Egyptian alchemist (third to fourth century CE) seems to have used this term to refer to some section of his own work (Mertens 1995, lxxxvii and 18); however, he also employed the expression cheirokmēta—along with the similar term cheirotmēmata, lit. ‘hand-cut things’—to indicate a wide spectrum of methods for processing substances employed across a variety of crafts, including pharmacology, cooking, and dyeing (Martelli 2013, 44-47). The terms cheirokmēta and cheirotmēmata do not seem to convey a specifically alchemical meaning: if it is likely that Bolos’s Cheirokmēta dealt with the making of artificial substances, the few fragments preserved by later authors do not allow us to attribute these substances to specific crafts or areas of expertise. The possible alchemical or proto-alchemical character of Bolos’s works remains therefore conjectural, since not explicitly confirmed by the available sources.


3. The Alchemical Four Books and Their Date

The alchemical tradition is almost unanimous in attributing four alchemical books on dyeing to Democritus (bibloi baphikai according to Synesius; Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 56 = Martelli 2013, 122). A certain variation is detectable in the order in which these books are referred to by later authors, who list either the book on gold or the book on silver in the first position or even add an additional fifth book on pearls (thus did the so-called philosopher Anonymous; see Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 433; Martelli 2013, 13-18). However, there is a general consensus on the topics of the books: (1) the making of gold, that is, how to tinge metals yellow; (2) the making of silver, that is, how to tinge metals white; (3) the making of artificial gemstones (perhaps including pearls); and (4) how to dye fabrics (especially wool) by using substitutes for the expensive Tyrian purple.  The same topics recur in the recipes of the Leiden and Stockholm papyri (Halleux 1981, 35-52). 

Regrettably, these four books no longer exist in their original form. Only epitomized versions of them have been preserved either by the Byzantine or by the Oriental tradition. The earliest and most important Byzantine manuscripts—in particular, the Marcianus gr. 299 (tenth-eleventh century CE) and the Parisini gr. 2325 (thirteenth century) and 2327 (1478)—hand down two long excerpts in Greek that deal with three of the four areas of expertise originally covered by Pseudo-Democritus: gold making, silver making, and purple dyeing. The first excerpt bears in the manuscripts the titles Natural and Secret Questions (Physika kai mystika) or On the Making of Purple and GoldNatural and Secret Questions (Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 41-49 = Martelli 2013, 78-103). It actually represents the compilation of an anonymous reviser who excerpted, summarized, and combined two originally separate books of Pseudo-Democritus, namely the book on gold and the one on purple. A second excerpt, entitled On the Making of Silver (Peri asemou poieseōs) in the manuscripts represents what remains of Pseudo-Democritus’s original book on silver (Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 49-53 = Martelli 2013, 104-115). No excerpts from the book on the making of precious stones are explicitly handed down in Byzantine manuscripts under the name of Democritus. However, quotations from this book are detectable in later works, such as in the Byzantine recipe book Deep Tincture of Stones, Emeralds, Rubies and Jacinths from the Book Taken out from the Sancta Sanctorum of Temples (Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 350-364).

More extensive material is preserved in Syriac translation. Presumably between the sixth and the ninth century CE, Greek alchemical works were translated into Syriac (Martelli2014). Syriac manuscripts hand down two slightly different translations of Pseudo-Democritus’s book on gold (or at least some sections of it) under the titles From the Teaching of Democritus: First Part of the First Treatise on the Making of Gold (Berthelot-Duval 1893, 10-12) and Book by Democritus: On the Making of Shiny Gold (Martelli 2013, 152-167). The book on silver is also preserved in two versions, introduced respectively by the titles Again by the Same Author (Berthelot-Duval 1893, 12-13) or Second Book by the Philosopher Democritus (Martelli 2013, 168- 179). Finally, a third treatise entitled Again by Democritus: I Greet You Wise Men includes sections taken from the last two alchemical books of Pseudo-Democritus, since it combines recipes for the making of gemstones and recipes for dyeing wool purple (Martelli 2013, 180-187; see also Berthelot-Duval 1893, 13-15).   

By comparing these data with the information provided by later alchemical authors, it is possible to better understand the relationship between the material preserved in Byzantine and Syriac tradition and the four books of Pseudo-Democritus in their original version. The Byzantine excerpt Natural and Secret Questions (Physika kai mystikaPM hereafter) opens with short extracts from the original book on purple. It includes a complex recipe (PM § 1) explaining how to dye wool purple by means of two natural substances, namely bryon thalassion (a dyeing seaweed) and lakcha (perhaps lac-dye), followed by a catalogue of pigments employed in such processes (PM § 2). The pigments are divided into two groups: ineffective dyes, which were nevertheless praised by the author’s predecessors; and dyes that, despite their efficacy, were not appreciated by his contemporaries. The original book on purple certainly included more recipes, some of which have been collected in the above-mentioned third Syriac treatise Again by Democritus: I Greet You Wise Men(§§ 5-7 in Martelli 2013, 184-186). We cannot exclude the possibility that a narrative section too originally belonged to this book. The catalogue of pigments, in fact, is followed by a first person account of Pseudo-Democritus’s initiation into the alchemical art (PM § 3): the author explains here the unexpected death of his master and the discovery of Ostanes’ aphorisms on nature in a column of an Egyptian temple (see above, section 1).  

The next section (PM § 4) is not seamlessly amalgamated with the previous one, since it does not continue the account of the previous paragraph. Indeed, the sequence of the events appears rather confusing, since in § 4 the author claims to have come to Egypt in order to spread his alchemical teaching, while, according to § 3, he already was in an Egyptian temple. This inconsistency marks the point at which the anonymous complier juxtaposed the excerpts from the book on purple and those from the book on gold. PM § 4, in fact, opens the part of Natural and Secret Questions corresponding to Pseudo-Democritus’s book on the making of gold. From this point, the Byzantine and the Syriac translations of the book on gold run in parallel. We have, in fact, a series of recipes describing different methods for dyeing metals yellow. In general, each recipe first instructs how to manipulate different natural substances in order to prepare a dyeing drug (pharmakon), then the author explains which metals must be dyed by means of the prepared drug. Finally, the recipe is closed by the repetition of a segment of Ostanes’ aphorism on natures. The first set of recipes (PM §§ 5-14) focuses on techniques that use dry substances, called ta xēria; the second set of recipes by contrast (PM §§ 17-19) employs liquid dyes, called zōmoi in Greek, i.e. ‘washes.’ These two groups are divided by a more theoretical section (PM §§ 15-16), in which Pseudo-Democritus attacks young students who do not devote enough energy and time to learn how to properly mix substances and thus prepare the alchemical pharmakon. On the contrary – Pseudo-Democritus continues – they should follow the example of physicians, who carefully study and test the qualities of each natural ingredient before preparing their healing medicines. 

A similar bipartite structure is also detectable in what remains of Pseudo-Democritus’s book on silver. The Byzantine compendium On the Making of Silver (Peri asemou poieseōsAP hereafter) simply includes nine recipes that describe how to whiten metals, apparently without any further division (AP 1-9). On the other hand, later alchemists such as Zosimusof Panopolis often refer to the last recipe of the compendium (AP § 9) as  “the last recipes of the white washes” (zōmoi; see Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 152-153). The same term zōmoi,—as already seen used to introduce the second part on liquid dyes in the book on gold—occurs in a recipe book generally referred to as The Chemistry of Moses, where it introduces the quotation of AP § 6, handed down under the heading “Washes (zōmoi) for the silver making” (Berthelot-Ruelle 1887, vol. 2, 310). Furthermore, after the recipe corresponding to AP § 5, the Syriac translation entitled Second Book by the Philosopher Democritus preserves a more theoretical passage comparable to the two paragraphs (PM§§ 15-16) that divide the section on gold-making into two parts (Martelli 2013, 173-174). In this passage, Pseudo-Democritus insists on the properties of natural substances and explicitly identifies liquids dyes as the focus of the following part. In conclusion, we can safely infer that the book on silver was also originally structured in two sections: AP §§ 1-5 represent what survives of the part on dry dyes, while AP §§ 6-9 preserves what survives of the second part on ‘washes.’ A theoretical passage marked the switch from the first to the second part.  

The same division between dry and liquid substances guided pseudo-Democritus in compiling four catalogues of dyeing ingredients. On the basis of the comparison between Synesius’ commentary on Pseudo-Democritean books (see already Tannery 285-285) and some lists of ingredients included in the above-mentioned Chemistry of Moses, it is possible to identify what remains of three of these catalogues, introduced by the titles Substances for the Making of Gold, Substances for (the Making of) Washes, and Substances for the Making of Silver (Martelli 2013, 26-29 and 116-121). These lists were probably part of the original books on gold and silver as the catalogue of purple dyes is still included in what remains of the book on purple. 

Despite the incomplete and summarized form in which the four books have reached us, a comprehensive investigation of their direct and indirect tradition still makes it possible to assess the coherence and unity of the work. This work must be counted among the many pseudonymous writings that, according to the above-discussed testimony by Aulus Gellius(X.12,8), were circulating under the name of Democritus. According to some elements visible in the Byzantine excerpts as well as in the references of later alchemists to Pseudo-Democritus’s four books, it seems possible to date them to the first century CE (see, e.g., Lippmann 1919, vol 1, 27-29; Letrouit 1995, 74). 

On the one hand, the earliest alchemist who clearly quotes the books is Zosimus of Panopolis, whose own works date to the third-fourth century CE, thus providing an important terminus ante quem. Yet, Pseudo-Democritus himself provides some important clues for dating his writings. In the fourth recipe of the section on gold (PM § 8), he mentions an ingredient called klaudianon, a term that is likely to stem form the name of the emperor Claudius (41-54 CE).  Similar terminology was used to refer to a mining area in Egypt – the so-called Mons Claudianus – which had been heavily exploited during the reign of Nero (54-68 CE) as an important marble quarry. Further evidence points to the reign of Nero, if we accept Diels’ suggestion (Diels 1924, 134 n. 1) to identify the alchemist Pammenes quoted in PM § 20 with the homonymous Egyptian astrologer active during Nero’s reign (see Tacitus, Annals XVI.14; Aelianus, Enquiry into Animals XVI.42). A similar chronology was also suggested by Festugière, who focused his attention on the term lakcha attested in PM §§ 1-2. This ingredient, probably coming from India, could have been available in the first-second century CE, when there was a flourishing trade between Egypt and India (Festugière 1944, vol 1, 225). The substance is also mentioned among the Indian luxury goods imported at the Adylis harbour in the Periplus of the Red Sea (6,22), a text commonly dated to mid-first century CE. In conclusion, if assigning the date of the four books to the first century is likely correct, we cannot exclude that Seneca’s mention of Democritus’s methods for making fake emeralds (see above, section 1) did actually refer to the third alchemical book devoted to the making of gemstones.



4. Bibliography


A. Primary Sources  (Editions and Translations)


Adler, Ada. 1928-1938. Suidae Lexicon. 5 vols. Berlin: Teubner.


Amigues, Suzanne. 2006. Théophraste. Recherches sur les plantes. Tome 5. Livre IX. Paris : Les Belles Lettres.


Berthelot, Marcelin and Charles-Émile Ruelle. 1887-88. Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs. 3 vols. Paris: Georges Steinheil.  


Berthelot, Marcelin and Rubens Duval. 1893. La chimie au Moyen-Âge. Tome 2: L’alchimie syriaque. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.


Betz, Hans Dieter. 1986. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells. Chicago: Chicago University Press. 


Edelstein, Ludwig and Ian G. Kidd. 1972-1999. Posidonius. The Fragments. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Giannini, Alessandro. 1966. Paradoxographorum Graecorum reliquiae. Milano: Istituto editoriale italiano.


Crugnola, Annunciata. 1971. Scholia in Nicandri Theriaca cun glossis. Milano: Istituto editoriale cisalpino.


Halleux, Robert. 1981. Les alchimistes grecs, vol. 1. Papyrus de Leyde, papyrus de Stockholm, fragments de recettes. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.


Helm, Rudolf. 1956. Eusebius Werke 7: Die Chronik des Hieronymus. Berlin: Akademie Verlag  (Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller 47).


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Smith, Wesley D. 1990. Hippocrates. Pseudepigraphic Writings. Letters, Embassy, Speech from the Altar, Decree. Leiden, New York and Köln: Brill. 


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 Matteo Martelli