Mary the Jewess
Mary or Maria the Jewess (Latin: Maria Prophetissima), also known as Mary or Miriam the Prophetess, is a figure who first appeared in the works of the Gnostic Christian writer Zosimos of Panopolis, whose sources for this are not clear.
The figure of Maria Prophetissima may have been developed from Miriam, a sister of Moses. On the basis of Zosimos's comments, she lived between the first and third centuries A.D. She is credited with the invention of several kinds of chemical apparatus and is considered to be the first true alchemist of the Western world.
The primary source for the existence of "Mary the Jewess" within the context of alchemy is Zosimos of Panopolis, who wrote, in the 4th century, the oldest alchemy books known. Zosimos described several of Mary's experiments and instruments. In his writings, Mary is almost always mentioned as having lived in the past, and she is described as "one of the sages."
Although none of Mary's writings have survived, some quotations credited to her are found in hermetic writings. The most notable of these are found in The Dialogue of Mary and Aros on the Magistery of Hermes, which is an extract made by an anonymous Christian philosopher. Operations are described in this document which would later become the basis of alchemy, such as leukosis (whitening) and xanthosis (yellowing). The document describes, for the first time, an acid salt and other acids. There are also several recipes for making gold from plants (mandragora, for example).
Several cryptic alchemical precepts have been attributed to Mary. She is said to have spoken of the union of opposites:
Join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought.
The following was known as the Axiom of Maria:
One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.
Out of the One comes Two, out of Two comes Three, and from the Third comes the One as the Fourth.
Mary, along with Agathodaemon, Pseudo-Democritus, and Hermes Trismegistus, was mentioned by Zosimos of Panopolis in his descriptions of certain devices, such as the tribikos, the kerotakis, and the bain-marie. But her contributions are disputed and not clear.
The tribikos was a kind of alembic with three arms that was used to obtain substances purified by distillation. It is not known whether Mary invented it, but Zosimos credits the first description of the instrument to her. It is still used today in alchemy and chemistry labs. In her writings (quoted by Zosimos), she recommends that the copper or bronze used to make the tubes should be the thickness of a frying pan and that the joints between the tubes and the still-head should be sealed with flour paste.
The kerotakis is a device used to heat substances used in alchemy and to collect vapors. It is an airtight container with a sheet of copper upon its upper side. When working properly, all its joints form a tight vacuum. The use of such sealed containers in the hermetic arts led to the term "hermetically sealed." The kerotakis was said to be a replication of the process of the formation of gold that was occurring in the bowels of the earth.
Mary's name survives in her invention of the bain-marie (Mary's Bath), which limits the maximum temperature of a container and its contents to the boiling point of a separate liquid: essentially a double boiler. It is extensively used in chemical processes for which a gentle heat is necessary. This term was introduced by Arnold of Villanova in the 14th century. The bain-marie is also used for cooking food.
- Chemical History Tour, Picturing Chemistry from Alchemy to Modern Molecular Science Adele Droblas Greenberg Wiley-Interscience 2000 ISBN 0-471-35408-2
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- Patai, p. 66.
- von Franz, Marie-Louise (1974). Number and Time: Reflections Leading Towards a Unification of Psychology and Physics. London: Rider & Company. p. 65. ISBN 0-09-121020-8.
- Bunch, Bryan; Hellemans, Alexander (2004). "Sci & Tech Chronology". History of Science and Technology. Houghton Mifflin Company. Also mentioned in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906). Others attribute the discovery to Andreas Libavius.
- Taylor, Frank Sherwood. Alchemists, Founders of Modern Chemistry. pp. 38–39.
- Holmyard, E.J. (1957). Alchemy. New York: Dover, 1990. pp. 48f.
- Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co. 1900. p. 112.
A vessel for holding hot water in which another vessel may be heated without scorching its contents; —used for warming or preparing food or pharmaceutical preparations.
- Patai, Raphael (1995). The Jewish Alchemists. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691032904.
- Haeffner, Mark (2004). The Dictionary of Alchemy: From Maria Prophetissa to Isaac Newton. London: Aeon. ISBN 1904658121. (Paperback edition)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Alchemy: Maria the Jewess". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
- Mary the Prophetess: The Dialogue of Mary and Aros on the Magistery of Hermes.