Reading Seminar on Babylonian Proto-Chemistry

This meeting represents a fresh attempt to look at possible paths of transmission of Babylonian chemical arts into the later development of alchemy, with special focus on Graeco-Egyptian alchemical texts and their reception/transformation in the Syriac and Arabic traditions.

Guest scholars
Eduardo Escobar (Chicago)
Cale Johnson (Birmingham)
Maddalena Rumor (Cleveland)

16-18 July 2019
Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies
via Zamboni 38
CIS – Seminar room


Exempla Trahunt – Specimens of Alchemical and Scientific Manuscripts (Arabic&Syriac)

AlchemEast workshop
A specimen is an individual example endowed with a number of characteristics that make it representative of a whole species or type. This concept, commonly used in natural sciences, has become relevant in several other fields, whenever the need to define a standard arises. Manuscript studies are not new to this idea, especially when it comes to palaeography. This approach, however, could be productive in exploring other aspects of the manuscript tradition as well. The working idea of specimen, in fact, may bridge the gap between the unpredictable unicity of a single manuscript artefact and the aspiration to fix an ideal standard that surpasses the complexity of the empirical data. Even within the frame of more defined fields ― scientific manuscripts, in particular those related to alchemy and related disciplines ― it is hard to set parameters that can capture and, at the same time, systematize this fluidity. The idea of this workshop is to use the specimen to open a window onto some specific features that may define typologies or groups of Arabic or Syriac scientific manuscripts. In this sense, the specimen does not stand in isolation, but its relevance is proportional to the constellation of witnesses that gravitate around it. That is to say that a specimen, on the one hand, has to define a recognizable typology and, on the other, it must be structured in such a way to tolerate a degree of variance within it. Alongside with palaeography, the challenge to define specimens involves other aspects as well. Aspects to be explored include, but are not limited to, the layout and the organization of the contents (e.g. tabular manuscripts, marginal annotations and comments, table of contents), the use of images (e.g. illustrations of alchemical equipment and diagrams), stylistic features (e.g. secret alphabets, cryptography and symbols) and the possible multilingual dimension of a text (e.g. Judeo-Arabic or Garshuni manuscripts).

8-9 July 2019, Bologna
Sala Rossa, via Azzo Gardino 23


Science, Rituals and Technology. Encoding Technical Knowledge in Graeco-Roman Egypt.

The development of a complex scientific discourse is not necessarily linked to writing. However, written codifications certainly played a key role in the transmission of technical knowledge. Along with literary texts dealing with different technai (or arts), technical knowledge found its own form of expression in recipes. In Antiquity, this kind of written texts serves to codify and transmit a wide variety of practices, not only medical, but also ritual and technological. The workshop will explore this variety in Graeco-Roman Egypt, by taking into account different sources (from papyri to the iconography of Egyptian temples) and comparing different disciplines (medicine, magic and alchemy).

7 march 2019 – 3 PM
Aula Mondolfo
(via Zamboni 38 – Bologna)


Egyptian Ointments in the Athenian Marketplace

Reading Seminar (Dr Sean Coughlin)
The Mendesian is an ancient Egyptian unguent known to us only through Greek and Latin sources. It was produced in Mendes, on the eastern Nile delta, at least until the end of the Ptolemaic kingdom, and it was one of the most sought after and expensive aromas in antiquity. Even Plato is said to have used it to adorn his symposia. This reading seminar will go over some issues that came up as we tried to identify its ingredients and method of production, and what happened when we tried to replicate it.

1 March 2019 – 10:30 AM
Aula Mondolfo
(Via Zamboni 38 – Bologna)


Under a Cabbage Leaf – Stories of Spontaneous Generation

Spontaneous generation has been a hot issue of the ancient and premodern scientific debate. Far from being doubted, in its long history this idea has seen a large diffusion in different fields of scientific and technical knowledge. This workshop will explore the idea of spontaneous generation in the continuum of the Graeco-Arabic tradition, and the success it met with in several fields of ancient science, such as alchemy, medicine and natural philosophy.

28 February 2019 – 3:30 PM
Aula Mondolfo
(via Zamboni 38 – Bologna)


Ex Animalibus – The Usefulness of Animals in Premodern Science

Symposium / Book Launch
In the occasion of the recent publication of the book ʿĪsā ibn ʿAlī’s Book On the Useful Properties of Animal Parts, the AlchemEast project organizes a symposium on the role of animals and their properties in premodern science. The speakers will address a topic of their research related to the book, introducing the discussion with the author on some crucial aspects of animal presence in technical literature.

27 February 2019 – 4:30 PM
Sala Rossa – Centro Internazionale di Studi Umanistici “Umberto Eco”
(via Marsala, 26 – Bologna)