Chemistry in Europe



The Greek treatises, which contain the beginnings of chemistry, were unknown in Europe during the Middle Ages. The information on alchemy arrived with translations of Arabic works made in Spain.
Experiments on the supposed transmutation included the melting pyrites with lead. If iron pyrites, a yellow mineral looking somewhat like gold, was melted with lead, and the lead cupelled, a minute amount of gold was left. The gold, of course, pre-existed in the minerals. Also, a steel knife-blade dipped into a solution of blue vitriol (copper sulphate) apparently became converted into copper.
In medieval Europe, there were two famous alchemists, which were Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon. Albertus Magnus (1193 – 1280) found that alchemy was a pretented science. He composed a large number of works, mostly dealing with theology, physics and natural history. He quotes the dictum of the genuine Avicenna that species can not be transmuted. In his work, De Anima, he described the possibility of transmutation.
Roger Bacon was born at Ilchester, in Somerset, probably in 1214. He studied in Oxford, where he later took the degree of M.A. Bacon devides alchemy into :
1.      Speculative, dealing with the generation of things from the elements and all types of metals,minerals, salts, etc.
2.      Operative, teaching how to make things (including gold) better by art than in nature and also powerfulmedicines by sublimation, distillation, etc.

Bacon emphasized, long before Paracelsus, that medicine should make use of remedies provided by chemistry and he realized that chemistry is a science intermediate between physics and biology. Bacon in his works describes gunpowder, which became known in Europe (perhaps from China by way of the Arabs) in this time. He gives its composition as seven parts of saltpetre, five of wood charcoal and five sulphur, which contain too little saltpetre to be good.


Writer : Erfan Priyambodo, M. Si. (Lecturer of Yogyakarta State University) 

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