So much for gold

Theophilus Presbyter was the pen name of a Germanic
polymath, active during the early 12th century. Sometime
around 1120 Presbyter published a Latin volume entitled De
Diversis Artibus (‘The Diverse Arts’), in which he shared his
knowledge of science, metalworking and alchemy. In this
extract, contemporarised but otherwise unchanged,
Theophilus takes us through some comprehensive
instructions for making gold:

1. Locate or prepare an underground
house, with “all sides of stone” and “two
openings so small that scarcely any
[sunlight] is visible”.
2. Into this house place “two cocks of 12
to 15 years old and give them sufficient
food”. When the cocks have “become
fatted”, allow them to mate with hens until
the hens lay eggs.
3. Expel the chickens and replace them
with large toads, which are to “keep the
eggs warm”.
4. “From the hatched eggs there [shall
hatch] male chickens, like hen’s chickens,
which after seven days [will] grow serpents’
tails.” These must be kept in a room or
cellar lined with stone or they will burrow
into the earth.
5. After six months, burn these
creatures alive until they are “completely
consumed” and burnt to ashes.
6. Gather up the ashes and “pulverise
them, adding a third part of the blood of a
red-haired man”, mixed with some “sharp
7. Spread this mixture over “the thinnest
plates of purest red copper… and place
them in the fire”. When they become red
hot, take from the fire and cool, then
repeat this step until “the preparation
penetrates through the copper and takes
on the weight and colour of gold.”

Source: Theophilus Presbyter, De Diversis Artibus, c.1120.


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