Cleopatra the Alchemist

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Cleopatra the Alchemist (3rd or 4th century), was an Egyptian alchemist and author.

The dates of her life and death are unknown, but she was active in Alexandria in the 3rd century or the 4th century. "She was associated with the Maria's School and may have been her contemporary in Alexandria." [1] Women chemists in Greco-Roman Egypt were not uncommon as they were primarily active concocting fragrances and cosmetics. This was a largely female dominated branch of science "(For this reason the work of the early alchemist were sometimes called opus mulierum 'women's work'). [2]

Cleopatra is a pseudonym for an author whose real name has been lost. She is not the same person as Cleopatra VII, nonetheless she may be referred to as Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt in some later works. As we noted, she was linked to the famous Queen Kleopatra to whom the Arab writer Ibn-Wahs-Chijiah attributed a book on poisons and to whom the Romans gave a book on cosmetics.[3] One example of this can be found in Basillica Philosophica by Johann Daniel Mylius (1618), where her seal is pictured alongside the motto: "The divine is hidden from the people according to the wisdom of the Lord".[4] Cleopatra is also used as a character within the dialogue of the alchemical texts themselves.

Cleopatra was a foundational figure in alchemy, pre-dating Zosimos of Panopolis. Michael Maier names her as one of the four women who knew how to make the philosopher's stone, along with Maria the Jewess, Medera, and Taphnutia.[5] Cleopatra was mentioned with great respect in the Arabic encyclopedia Kitab al-Fihrist from 988. She is most noted for the text Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, a sheet of papyrus which contains many emblems,"indeed her discourse is the most imaginative a deeply felt document left by the alchemist" [3] later developed and used within gnostic and hermetic philosophy. An example is the serpent eating its own tail as a symbol of the eternal return, Ouroboros; The snake curving around with his head in his mouth is an obvious emblem of unity of the cosmos, of eternity, where the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning," [3] and another is the eight-banded star. Her work also contained several descriptions and drawings of the technical process of furnaces. She is sometimes credited with the invention of the alembic.[6]

References[edit]

  • Stanton J. Linden. The alchemy reader: from Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton Cambridge University Press. (2003)
  • Jennifer S. Uglow. The Macmillan dictionary of women's biography (1982)
  • Lindsay. Jack. The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt Barnes and Noble NY. (1970)
  • Alic. Margaret. Hypatia's Heritage. A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Alic, Margaret. Hypatia's Heritage: A history of women in science from antiquity through the nineteenth century. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 39. 
  2. ^ Alic, Margaret. Hypatia's Heritage: a history of women in science from antiquity through the nineteenth century. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 36. 
  3. ^ a b c Lindsay, Jack (1970). The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt. New York: Barnes and Noble. 
  4. ^ Stanislas Klossowski de Rola. The Golden Game: Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century. 1988. p. 150.
  5. ^ Raphael Patai. The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book. p.78
  6. ^ Stanton J. Linden. The alchemy reader: from Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton Cambridge University Press. 2003. p.44