Alchemy is considered to be a perfect example of pseudo-science in every aspect of the term´s definition. It is definitely valid in pure modern view. However, this is a little bit harsh and snobbish when a historical context is taken into account. In that context, a proto-scientific philosophical direction seems a more appropriate description as it really had the basics of modern science branches like chemistry or physics. In ancient Egypt, Middle East, India and the Muslim world as well as in Europe – in all these places alchemists were trying to discover things like an elixir of immortality, a universal cure for any disease or to transmute ordinary metals to gold. In the following Top 10, some of the most world famous alchemists in the world are listed.
Image Credit: Blogspot
10. Ge-Hong (263 – 420)
Image Credit: Internet Enclyclopedia of Philosphy
Ge-Hong was a Chinese alchemist with a special interest in gold. He served in a military and also as a clerk to the local Prince in Southern China. His works cover the areas of alchemy as well as religion, philosophy and other branches of human activities. He was a promoter of the “gold elixir” as the only man to achieve transcendence. He shouldn´t be forgotten among the famous alchemists in the world.
9. Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (865 – 925)
Image Credit: Brought to Life
This famous Muslim alchemist who is also known as Al-Razi or Rhazes lived in a Persia during the golden era of an Islamic civilization. He had an interest in mathematics, medicine, philosophy, chemistry and also alchemy. In all of these branches, he made a lot of success. He described chemicals like alcohol or kerosene. He is also called the father of pediatrics and made some breakthroughs in ophthalmology (what an irony as he became blind later) and became a chief physician of Baghdad´s hospital. In the field of alchemy, he was trying especially to transmute metals to gold and silver.
8. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)
Image Credit: Franciscan Media
Saint Thomas Aquinas is one the most important philosophers and scholars of Christianity during the middle-ages. His synthesis of Christian revelation with ancient Greek Aristotelian science defined the course of history for ages. Naturally, such a great scholar was interested also in medicine, biology, psychology… you name it. Alchemy was no exception. As an alchemist, he didn’t achieve such a fame as a theologian and philosopher but his general importance put him into our list of important real world alchemists.
7. Roger Bacon (1219/1220 – 1292)
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Roger Bacon was a Franciscan friar active in all of the major fields of science. And because he lived in the 13th century when there was no real difference between science and alchemy, he has his place in the list of the world famous alchemists. In his alchemic texts, he mentioned the philosopher´s stone as well as flying machines and submarines.
6. Johann Georg Faust (1480 – 1540)
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Dr. Johann Georg Faust is probably most famous for being a model for the main characters of Goethe´s drama Faust (1808). The real Faust was German alchemist, astrologer, and magician and also a physician and doctor of philosophy. He died after an explosion of his alchemical experiment. Again, not one of the most famous alchemists in the world, but Goethe gave him a second life in which his impact was tremendous.
5. Paracelsus (1493 – 1541)
Image Credit: Wikipedia
In fact, Paracelsus´ name meant “equal to or greater than Celsus” (Celsus was famous Roman encyclopedist of the 1st century). He studied medicine and is considered to be the father of toxicology. In the tradition of the late medieval Europe, he was also interested in the philosopher´s stone, the elixir of life, astrology and other things familiar to the scholars of his era.
4. Edward Kelley (1555 – 1597)
Image Credit: Prague City Line
With Edward Kelley, we have reached the golden era of alchemy. In Prague, emperor Rudolph II of Habsburg surrounded himself by the greatest of world famous alchemists (or those who told him to be one of them…). Kelley was an Englishman who claimed to be able to summon spirits and angels or to transmute base metals into gold. Rudolph believed in Kelley´s ability to produce gold and it is possible that his imprisonment was motivated by preventing him from escape with such an important secret. He was released but as he failed in producing gold, he was imprisoned again and soon he died from injuries while attempting to escape his prison.
3. John Dee (1527 – 1608)
Image Credit: ART UK
Respected astronomer and mathematician served for some time as an advisor of the English queen Elizabeth I. After that, he moved to Prague where he spent some time as a partner of Edward Kelley. There is a theory that Dee was the owner of the famous Voynich manuscript and sold it to the emperor Rudolph II. He has definitely his place among world famous alchemists as he is a representative of alchemy´s golden era.
2. Isaac Newton (1643 – 1728)
Image Credit: Kidskunt
You probably know Isaac Newton as a first-class scientist who defined Newton´s laws or invented the calculus. He is usually being described as the greatest scientists of all time with an IQ somewhere around 160. However, he has his place also among the real world alchemists. In his London laboratory, he actively experimented with alchemic procedures. To be aware of his interests in alchemy or interpretations of the Bible is necessary to fully understand his complicated personality.
1. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)
Image Credit: Futurism
Is it not appropriate to list the first (and only) female double Nobel Prize laureate at the top among the world famous alchemists? We agree that her research was completely different from that of Edward Kelley or John Dee but we feel that she has her place on the top of this list. Why? It is because she finally proved and described that transmutation, the ultimate goal of generations of alchemists, is real and can be found in nature. It is tightly connected to radioactivity. Of course, Marie Curie was not an alchemist. But we took the chance and used her name to symbolically end the era of alchemy which freed the stage for the era of science.
Real world alchemists may be only the historical curiosity but surely an interesting one. If you have found this article interesting, why not to continue reading about another great person of medieval for of science? Top 10 Da Vinci Inventions!