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Drawing Down the MoonMagic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World$
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Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691156934

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691156934.001.0001

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Transmutations of Quality: Alchemy and Magic

Transmutations of Quality: Alchemy and Magic

Chapter:
(p.269) 9 Transmutations of Quality: Alchemy and Magic
Source:
Drawing Down the Moon
Author(s):

Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691156934.003.0009

This chapter examines alchemy. Alchemy is one of the best-known, yet most misunderstood, forms of arcane magical lore. Alchemy in the ancient Greco-Roman world may be defined as the art or craft of the transmutation of the qualities of matter. Such a definition hinges on the theoretical aspect, stressing the importance of considering qualities as transferrable in the abstract, but it encompasses a range of practices, from procedures to change the color of metals to rituals to purify and perfect the soul. Although the accounts that trace the origins of Greek alchemy back to the alien wisdom of the Persian magi and the Egyptian sages are essentially a familiar kind of mythic tale of origin designed to reinforce the authority of the discourse, much of the technical knowledge that supports this lore for the manipulation of physical substances can nevertheless be clearly traced to very ancient metallurgical practices in Mesopotamia and Egypt. As these traditions of knowledge are systematized into arcane lore that derives its authority from the alien wisdom of the Egyptians and the magi, the practices of alchemy shift into the realm of things that can be labeled as magic.

Keywords:   alchemy, magical lore, ancient Greco-Roman world, transmutation, Greek alchemy, magi, metallurgical practices, Egypt, Mesopotamia, magic

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