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Zosimos of Panopolis

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Title: Zosimos of Panopolis  
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Subject: Alchemy, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Aurora consurgens, Timeline of chemistry, Alchemy in art and entertainment
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Zosimos of Panopolis

Distillation apparatus of Zosimos, from Marcelin Berthelot, Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs (3 vol., Paris, 1887-1888).

Zosimos of Panopolis (Greek: Ζώσιμος; also known by the Latin name Zosimus Alchemista, i.e. "Zosimus the Alchemist") was a Greek[1][2] alchemist and Gnostic mystic from the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century AD. He was born in Panopolis, present day Akhmim in the south of Egypt, and flourished ca. 300. He wrote the oldest known books on alchemy, of which quotations in the Greek language and translations into Syriac or Arabic are known. He is one of about 40 authors represented in a compendium of alchemical writings that was probably put together in Byzantium (Constantinople) in the 7th or 8th century AD and that exists in manuscripts in Venice and Paris. Stephen of Alexandria is another.

Arabic translations of texts by Zosimos were discovered in 1995 in a copy of the book Keys of Mercy and Secrets of Wisdom by Ibn Al-Hassan Ibn Ali Al-Tughra'i', a Persian alchemist. Unfortunately, the translations were incomplete and seemingly non-verbatim.[3] The famous index of Arabic books, Kitab al-Fihrist by Ibn Al-Nadim, mentions earlier translations of four books by Zosimos, however due to inconsistency in transliteration, these texts were attributed to names "Thosimos", "Dosimos" and "Rimos"; also it is possible that two of them are translations of the same book. F. Sezgin has found 15 manuscripts of Zozimos in six libraries, at Tehran, Caire, Istanbul, Gotha, Dublin and Rampur. Michèle Mertens analyzes what is known about those manuscripts in her translation of Zozimos, concluding that the Arabic tradition seems extremely rich and promising, and regretting the difficult of access to these materials, until translated editions are available.


  • Alchemy 1
  • Visions of Zosimos 2
  • Surviving works 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
    • Fragments 6.1
    • Studies 6.2


In about 300 AD, Zosimos provided one of the first definitions of alchemy as the study of "the composition of waters, movement, growth, embodying and disembodying, drawing the spirits from bodies and bonding the spirits within bodies."[4]

In general, Zosimos' understanding of alchemy reflects the influence of Syncellus, Zosimos wrote:

The ancient and divine writings say that the angels became enamoured of women; and, descending, taught them all the works of nature. From them, therefore, is the first tradition, chema, concerning these arts; for they called this book chema and hence the science of chemistry takes its name.[6]

The external processes of metallic transmutation—the transformations of lead and copper into silver and gold (see the Stockholm papyrus)—had always to mirror an inner process of purification and redemption. Wrote Zosimos in Concerning the true Book of Sophe, the Egyptian, and of the Divine Master of the Hebrews and the Sabaoth Powers:

There are two sciences and two wisdoms, that of the Egyptians and that of the Hebrews, which latter is confirmed by divine justice. The science and wisdom of the most excellent dominate the one and the other. Both originate in olden times. Their origin is without a king, autonomous and immaterial; it is not concerned with material and corruptible bodies, it operates, without submitting to strange influences, supported by prayer and divine grace. The symbol of chemistry is drawn from the creation by its adepts, who cleanse and save the divine soul bound in the elements, and who free the divine spirit from its mixture with the flesh. As the sun is, so to speak, a flower of the fire and (simultaneously) the heavenly sun, the right eye of the world, so copper when it blooms—that is when it takes the color of gold, through purification—becomes a terrestrial sun, which is king of the earth, as the sun is king of heaven.[7]

Greek alchemists used what they called ὕδωρ θεῖον, meaning both divine water, and sulphurous water.[8] For Zosimos, the alchemical vessel was imagined as a baptismal font, and the tincturing vapours of mercury and sulphur were likened to the purifying waters of baptism, which perfected and redeemed the Gnostic initiate. Zosimos drew upon the Hermetic image of the krater or mixing bowl, a symbol of the divine mind in which the Hermetic initiate was "baptized" and purified in the course of a visionary ascent through the heavens and into the transcendent realms. Similar ideas of a spiritual baptism in the "waters" of the transcendent Pleroma are characteristic of the Sethian Gnostic texts unearthed at Nag Hammadi.[9] This image of the alchemical vessel as baptismal font is central to his Visions, discussed below.

Visions of Zosimos

One of Zosimos' texts is about a sequence of dreams related to Alchemy, and presents the proto-science as a much more religious experience. In his dream he first comes to an altar and meets Ion (the Sabians consider him the founder of their religion), who calls himself "the priest of inner sanctuaries, and I submit myself to an unendurable torment." Ion then fights and impales Zosimos with a sword, dismembering him "in accordance with the rule of harmony" (referring to the division into four bodies, natures, or elements). He takes the pieces of Zosimos to the altar, and "burned (them) upon the fire of the art, till I perceived by the transformation of the body that I had become spirit." From there, Ion cries blood, and horribly melts into "the opposite of himself, into a mutilated anthroparion"—which Carl Jung perceived as the first concept of the homunculus in alchemical literature.

Zosimos wakes up, asks himself, "Is not this the composition of the waters?" and returns to sleep, beginning the visions again—he constantly wakes up, ponders to himself and returns to sleep during these visions. Returning to the same altar, Zosimos finds a man being boiled alive, yet still alive, who says to him, "The sight that you see is the entrance, and the exit, and the transformation ... Those who seek to obtain the art (or moral perfection) enter here, and become spirits by escaping from the body"—which can be regarded as human distillation; just as how distilled water purifies it, distilling the body purifies it as well. He then sees a Brazen Man (another homunculus, as Jung believed any man described as being metal is perceived as being a homunculus), a Leaden Man (named Agathodaimon and also a homunculus). Zosimos also dreams of a "place of punishments" where all who enter immediately burst into flames and submit themselves to an "unendurable torment."

Jung believed these visions to be a sort of Alchemical allegory, with the tormented homunculi personifying transmutations—burning or boiling themselves to become something else. The central image of the visions are the Sacrificial Act, which each Homunculus endures. In alchemy the dyophysite nature is constantly emphasized, two principles balancing one another, active and passive, masculine and feminine, which constitute the eternal cycle of birth and death. This is also illustrated in the figure of the uroboros, the dragon that bites its own tail (and which appears earliest in the Chrysopoeia) Self-devouring is the same as self-destruction, but the unison of the dragon's tail and mouth was also thought of as self-fertilization. Hence the text of "Tractatus Avicennae" mentions "the dragon slays itself, weds itself, impregnates itself." In the visions, circular thinking appears in the sacrificial priest's identity with his victim and in the idea that the homunculus into whom Ion is changed devours himself—he spews fourth his own flesh and rends himself with his own teeth. The homunculus therefore stands for the uroboros, which devours itself and gives birth to self. Since the homonculus represents the transformation of Ion, it follows that Ion, the uroboros, and the sacrificer are essentially the same.[10]

Surviving works

  • Authentic Memoirs
  • The Book of Pictures (Muṣḥaf aṣ-ṣuwar)
  • Concerning the true Book of Sophe, the Egyptian, and of the Divine Master of the Hebrews and the Sabaoth Powers (French translation)
  • The Final Quittance (French translation)
  • On the Evaporation of the Divine Water that fixes Mercury (French translation )
  • On the Letter Omega (English excerpt translated by G.R.S. Mead; French translation)
  • Treatise on Instruments and Furnaces (French translation)
  • The Visions of Zosimos (English translation)

The complete (as of 1888) "Œuvres de Zosime" were published in French by M. Berthelot in Les alchimistes grecs. English translations remain elusive.

See also


  1. ^ E. Gildemeister and Fr. Hoffman, translated by Edward Kremers (1913). The Volatile Oils 1. New York: Wiley. p. 203. 
  2. ^ Bryan H. Bunch and Alexander Hellemans (2004). The History of Science and Technology. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 88.  
  3. ^ Prof. Dr. Hassan S. El Khadem (September 1996). "A Translation of a Zosimos' Text in an Arabic Alchemy Book". Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 84 (3): pp. 168–178. 
  4. ^ Strathern, P. (2000). Mendeleyev’s Dream—the Quest for the Elements. New York: Berkley Books. 
  5. ^ Stroumsa, Gedaliahu A. G. (1984). Another Seed: Studies in Gnostic Mythology. Volume 24 of Nag Hammadi Studies. Brill Archive. p. 139 ff.  
  6. ^ Imuth, quoted in  
  7. ^ Carl Gustav Jung, Elizabeth Welsh, Barbara Hannah (1960). Modern Psychology: November 1940-July 1941: Alchemy, vol. 1-2. University of California: K. Schippert & Co. pp. 44–45. 
  8. ^ Schorlemmer, Carl (1894). The Rise and Development of Organic Chemistry. London: Macmillan and Company. p. 6. 
  9. ^ Fraser, Kyle (2004). "Zosimos of Panopolis and the Book of Enoch: Alchemy as Forbidden Knowledge". Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism 4.2. 
  10. ^ Jung, Carl (1983). "The Visions of Zosimos".  



Berthelot, Marcelin (1888). Collection des Anciens Alchimistes Grecs (in French). Paris: Steinheil.  Vol. I (introduction) p. 119, 127—174, 209, 250; vol. II (Greek text) p. 28, 117—120; Vol. III (trans.) p. 117—242.
H. D. Saffrey & Zosime de Panopolis (trans. M. Mertens). Les alchimistes grecs, vol. IV.1: Mémoires authentiques (in French). Les Belles-Lettres. pp. CLXXIII–348.   p. 1—49: I = Sur la lettre oméga; V = Sur l'eau divine; VI = Diagramme (ouroboros); VII = Sur les appareils et fourneaux


Berthelot, Marcelin (1885). Les Origines de l'alchimie (in French). Paris: Steinheil. pp. 177–187. 
Berthelot, Marcelin (1888). Collection des Anciens Alchimistes Grecs (in French). Paris: Steinheil.  Vol. I (introduction) p. 119, 127—174, 209, 250.
Berthelot, Marcelin (1893). La Chimie au Moyen Âge (in French). Paris: Steinheil.  Vol. II, p. 203—266; Vol. III, p. 28, 30, 41.
Jung, C. G. (1943).  
Lindsay, Jack (1970). The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt.  
Jackson, A. H. (1978). Zosimos of Panopolis. On the letter Omega. Missoula (Montana). 
Knipe, Sergio, "Sacrifice and self-transformation in the alchemical writings of Zosimus of Panopolis," in Christopher Kelly, Richard Flower, Michael Stuart Williams (еds), Unclassical Traditions. Vol. II: Perspectives from East and West in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011) (Cambridge Classical Journal, Supplemental Volume 35), 59-69.
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