Hippocrates in Two Syriac Alchemical Collections

in Aramaic Studies
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In this article, I will explore the fortune of Hippocrates in the Syriac alchemical literature. I will investigate a so far unedited Syriac text (MS Cambridge University Library, Mm. 6.29, ff. 133r–134v) that presents Hippocrates as the founder of alchemy and medicine. This text is edited here for the first time, translated into English, and compared with other alchemical writings (both in Syriac and in Arabic) attributed to the ancient physician from Cos.

Hippocrates in Two Syriac Alchemical Collections

in Aramaic Studies




Syriac text in P. BedjanLiber superiorum seu Historia monastica auctore Thoma episcopo Margensi; Liber fundatorum monasteriorum in regno Persarum et Arabum; Homiliae Mar-Narsetis in Joseph; Documenta patrum de quibusquam verae fidei dogmatibus (Paris and Leipzig: Harrassowitz1901) p. 312; translation (slightly modified) by E.A.W. Budge The Book of Governors. The Historia Monastica of Thomas Bishop of Margâ A.D. 840 2 vols. (London: Kegan Paul Trench Trübner & Co. 1893) vol. 1 pp. 530–531 (Syriac text in vol. 2 p. 298).


See D.A. Russell and D. KonstanHeraclitus: Homeric Problems (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature2005) pp. 110–111.


See R. LambertonHomer the Theologian. Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition (Berkley: University of California Press1986). On the Byzantine interpretation of Homer see P. Cesaretti Allegoristi di Omero a Bisanzio. Ricerche ermeneutiche (Milan: Edizioni Guerini 1991).


O. TemkinHippocrates in a World of Pagans and Christians (Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press1991) p. 252.


See W. WrightA Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum Acquired since the Year 1838 (London: Longmans & Co. / Asher & Co.1872) vol. 3 pp. 1190–1192 (Egerton 709) and G. Margouliouth Descriptive List of Syriac and Karshuni Manuscripts in the British Museum Acquired since 1873 (London: Longmans & Co. / Asher & Co. 1899) pp. 2–3 (Oriental 1593). See also CMAII pp. xlvi–xlviii.


See e.g. MartelliPseudo-Democritus p. 245 (on body-soul distinction) and 236–237 (on orpiment).


Arabic text in E.J. HolmyardThe Arabic Works of Jâbir ibn Ḥayyân (Paris: Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner1928) vol. 1 p. 23 ll. 1–2.


J. Ruska‘Ein dem Chālid ibn Jazīd zugeschriebenes Verzeichnis der Propheten, Philosophen und Frauen, die sich mit Alchemie befaßten’Der Islam 18 (1929) pp. 293–299 (294): the name of Hippocrates (Buqrāṭ) is n. 31 in the list. Hippocrates also appears as an alchemical authority (along with Hermes Aristotle and Ǧābir) in the Arabic work The Twelve Chapters of Ostanes on Knowing the Venerable Stone: see M. Berthelot and M.O. Houdas La chimie au Moyen-Âge. Vol. 3: l’ alchimie arabe (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale 1893) p. 14; E. Blochet ‘Études sur le Gnosticisme musulman’ Rivista di studi orientali 4 (1911) pp. 267–300 (270–277); Sezgin Geschichte vol. 4 pp. 52–53.


See A. MüllerIbn Abī Uṣaibiʿa ʿUyūn al-anbaʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbaʾ (Königsberg i.pr.: Selbvertrag1880) vol. 1 p. 21 (l. 2). On Mahrārīs see Ullmann Geheimwissenschaften pp. 177–178. According to its Latin translation (see Zetzner’s Theatrum chemicum vol. 5 pp. 101–115: Tractatus Micreris suo discipulo Mirnefindo) in Mahrārīs’ work kitāb al-ḏahab Hippocrates is quoted (p. 106) as an authority on sulphur.


See K. Sudhoff‘Die pseudohippokratische Krankheitsprognostik nach dem Auftreten von Hautausschlägen „Secreta Hippocratis“ oder „Capsula eburnea“ benannt’Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin 9 (1915) pp. 79–116.


MartelliPseudo-Democritus pp. 180–181. The Greek text is preserved in a later quotation (CAAGII 122 ll. 4 ff.): ὁ Δημόκριτός φησιν· Δέξαι λίθον τὸν οὐ λίθον τὸν ἄτιμον καὶ πολύτιμον κτλ.


See H. Flashar‘Beiträge zur spätantiken Hippokratesdeutung’Hermes 90 (1962) pp. 402–418; A. Roselli ‘L’Anonimo De medicina (II 244–245 Dietz): un prolegomenon alla lettura di testi medici?’ Filologia antica e moderna 15 (1998) pp. 7–25; I. Sluiter ‘Two Problems in Ancient Medical Commentaries’ The Classical Quarterly 44 (1994) pp. 270–275.


See MartelliPseudo-Democritus pp. 7–13 and M. Martelli ‘L’ alchimie en syriaque et l’ œuvre de Zosime’ in É. Villey (ed.) Les sciences en syriaque (Paris: Geuthner 2014) pp. 191–214.

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