Alchemist, Mystic (c.350 – c.420)
As the greatest alchemist of the ancient world, Zosimos is regarded as the father of chemistry, whose extensive work inaugurates the inception of chemistry as a science. Significantly influenced by Aristotle before him, Zosimos was also a mystic and a philosopher, responsible for imparting a higher level of mysticism and spiritualism to alchemy.
Born in the Greek city of Panopolis in Egypt, Zosimos studied in Alexandria where he also lived and worked for most part of his life. He was the first to establish the term chemistry and the first man to produce beer. His groundbreaking discoveries in chemistry were unparalleled for his time, rendering his craftsmanship almost legendary.
He wrote a total of 28 books on chemistry, which he dedicated to his sister Theosevia. He compiled extensive studies on metals and their properties, most importantly on vitriol (sulfuric acid). He discovered that sulfuric acid dissolves metal and conducted experiments by which he produced oxygen from hydrogen oxide. In his book On the Evaporation of the Divine Water that Fixes Mercury, Zosimos studies the properties of mercury and asbestos, while in his book Treatise on Instruments and Furnice he describes multiple chemical instruments used for his experiments as well as practical aspects of his experiments conducted. His book On the Production of Zythos contains the oldest recipe of beer production in the world while his book On the Sacred and Divine Art of Gold and Silver Production, Zosimos describes a recipe he discovered of how to convert noble gases into gold. This discovery caused immense commotion throughout the Byzantine Empire, forcing it to be kept in complete secrecy.
Zosimos’ books were available only between members of the royal family and did not circulate outside the palace. For this reason, his books contain numerous references on the secret he had sworn not to reveal and other phrases such as “Silence teaches virtue”.
Perhaps, however, Zosimos’ fame as an alchemist rose to considerable extent not solely as a scientist but for his involvement in the mysteries and the occult. Some of his works deal with the philosophical aspects of chemistry while others with the practice of magic. Zosimos was the first of a series of enthusiasts who sought the philosopher’s stone, as detailed in his book The Stone of Philosophy. One of his main philosophical principles was that the universe is an expression of different symbols and numbers, which bestow certain forces on everything. Furthermore, the celestial bodies have significant influence on man and chemistry. Other aspects of his philosophy include the origin of life, the philosophy of matter and the virtues of the philosopher’s stone. Zosimos’ most influential books on philosophy and the occult include the Book of the Keys of the Work, Imuth, The Stone of Philosophy and The Book of Pictures.
With his philosophical works, Zosimos is responsible for bestowing the mystical and mythical dimension to alchemy that we know today. His works exerted tremendous influence in the Arab world during the Golden Age of Islam, resulting into his works being translated into Arabic. Numerous other writers were involved with his work, namely Michael Psellos, Photios, Synesius of Cyrene and Ibn Umail, who characterized him as the “pinnacle of philosophers”. His discovery of transmuting noble gases into gold is said to have been taken by Marquise de Sade centuries after the Fall of Constantinople, with which he achieved doubling within a short period of time the gold of England.