Union Académique Internationale

Alchimic Texts

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Project nº2, adopted 1920.

The history of this project reaches back to the Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs (CAAG), 3 vols, Paris, 1887-1888, published by Marcellin Berthelot and Charles-Émile Ruelle. With these tomes, Berthelot proved the scientific interest of editing and publishing an exceptional body of literature:

"In most of the great libraries of Europe, there is a collection of Greek manuscripts of great import for the history of the natural sciences, as well as the technology of metals and of ceramics. It is also just as important for the philosophical ideas of the first centuries of the Christian era. The collections in question are that of alchemical manuscripts that have remained unpublished to this day [...]. This Corpus of the Greek alchemists took form Constantinople, towards the eighth or ninth century CE. It was put together by Byzantine scholars, such as Photius and the compilators of the 53 series of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, scholars who passed down to us the remains of Greek science in comparable form. The authors contained in its covers are often cited by the Arabs, particularly in the Kitab al-Fihrist, as the source of their knowledge in chemistry. By this means, the authors became the starting point for the works of the Western erudites of the Middle Ages, and after that for the discoveries of modern chemistry. Because of this connection, the publication of these collections is of particular importance. Furthermore they contain a multitude of processes and technical recipes likely to throw new light on the fabrication of glass or alloys and ancient metals, such subjects as have heretofore been so controversial and obscure in the history of the great industries."

Thus Berthelot and Ruelle provided researchers with a remarkable collection of alchemical texts. At the same time, Berthelot emphasized the need to continue on this path by examining the alchemical manuscripts of European libraries which the editors were not able to consult. The project of a Catalogue of Greek Alchemical Manuscripts thus took up where the works of Berthelot and Ruelle left off. Thanks to Joseph Bidez, this venture was taken on by the Union Académique Internationale in 1920, in order to make an inventory and description of alchemical manuscripts. The work was completed in the form of a Catalogue of Alchemical Manuscripts in 8 vols, Brussels, 1924-32.

As R.P. Saffrey writes in the introduction to the first volume of the Greek Alchemists:

"From the first, according the Joseph Bidez’s wishes, the mission of the undertaking was to research and describe the alchemical manuscripts in order to edit and study their texts, as well as to draw instruction from them of varying kinds. J. Bidez was able to bring to completion the first phase of this worthy undertaking thanks to the admirable gathering of the best collaborators possible around him: Henri Lebègue, Armand Delatte, Marie Delcourt, C. O. Zuretti, Otto Lagercrantz, D. W. Singer, G. Goldschmidt, and J. L. Heiberg. […] By the time war came in 1939, the eight volumes describing the alchemical manuscripts of the principle libraries of Europe had been published."

The present project, Alchemical Texts, must be understood as a continuation of these priceless works. Its purpose is to offer new and updated critical editions which correspond to current scientific demands.

In 1968 the Reverend Father André Festugière suggested undertaking the edition of the Greek alchemical texts. The first program, as suggested by Father Saffrey and published in the first volume of the Alchimistes grecs, comprised twelve volumes to be released in the Collection des Universités de France (Collection Budé). Of this original program, today (November 2018) four volumes have been published.