An alembic (from Arabic الأنبيق (al-anbīq), from Greek ἄμβυξ (ambyx), possibly from Semitic) is an alchemical still consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, used for distilling chemicals. Technically, the alembic is the lid with a tube attachment (the still-head), which is placed on top of a flask, the cucurbit, containing the material to be distilled, but the word is often used to refer to the entire distillation apparatus. If the lid and flask are in one piece, it may be called a retort. The liquid in the cucurbit flask is heated or boiled; the vapour rises into the alembic hood, where it cools by contact with the walls and condenses, running down the spout into a receiving flask.
The word "alembic" is also used metaphorically for anything that refines or transmutes, as if by distillation (as in "the alembic of creative thought"). The word, like most alchemical terminology, comes from the Arabic: al-anbīq, meaning "still". The French spelling alambic is also commonly used, especially as the apparatus is often associated with cognac where it is known as alambic charentais (Charente alembic). In Shakespeare's plays, the older variant "limbeck" appears. An old French name for an alembic (more specifically, the cucurbit) was matras.
The alembic symbol is Unicode U+2697 ALEMBIC (⚗).
The earliest appearances of alembics are to be found in the works of ancient Persian alchemists, such as Jabir al-Tusi (Geber). Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, who conducted the first documented scientific studies on distillation, used alembics in his scientific work. This work was extended during the Middle Ages by Muslim alchemists like Avicenna and Al-Farabi.
- Forbes, Robert James (1970) A Short History of the Art of Distillation: from the beginnings up to the death of Cellier Blumenthal. Leyden: E. J. Brill ISBN 978-90-04-00617-1; p. 23
- Tolhausen brothers and Gardissal, ed.s, Dictionnaire technologique français-anglais-allemand: … (Technical dictionary in French, English, and German: … ), Part I, (Paris, France: A. Morel et Cie., 1864), p. 100.
- Encyclopædia Britannica 1911, Alchemy.
- Forbes, Robert James (1970) A Short History of the Art of Distillation: from the beginnings up to the death of Cellier Blumenthal. Leyden: E. J. Brill ISBN 978-90-04-00617-1; pp. 20-23
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Alembic.|