87371 - History of Ancient Science (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

Through the study of primary sources as well as of the main exegetical schools developed by modern interpreters, students will be provided with the intellectual tools necessary to: critically read and interpret scientific works, practices and theories from Antiquity; become aware of the historical and philological mechanisms that guided their transmission and promoted their influence over the centuries.

Course contents

At the Origins of Alchemy: Ancient Narratives and Modern Interpretations

The class will explore the origins and early development of the alchemical art in Graeco-Roman Egypt as well as its reception in the Arabo-Islamic and Latin worlds. Particular attention will be devoted to: (1) the definition of alchemy and its main ancient doctrines, related to metallic transmutation (the transformation of vile metals into gold) and to the concept of elixir; (2) the study of the historical settings that promoted popular exegetical streams (e.g. Jungian phycology) that deeply influenced common stereotypes about alchemy; (3) critical study of ancient sources and their mechanisms of transmission.

Starting date: September, 30



(1) Matteo Martelli, L'alchimista antico e bizantino (Milano: Editrice Bibliografica, 2019).

(2) Lawrence Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013), chap. 1-4.

(3) Michela Pereira (a cura di), Alchimia. I testi della tradizione occidentale(Milano: Mondadori/Meridiani, 2006) – a selection of works/passages will be decided during the class (or agreed with the teacher).

Reference books used during the classes

(additional titles will be suggested)

Robert Halleux, Les textes alchimiques(Turnhout: Brepols, 1979)

Manfred Ullmann, Die Natur- und Gemeimwissenschaften im Islam(Leiden: Brill, 1972)

Teaching methods

Traditional lectures about the topics of the course;

Relevant passages of both medical and philosophical ancient sources will be read and commented on during the classes.

Students will be encouraged to deliver short presentations on particular topics (either individually or in groups)

Assessment methods

The exam consists in an oral interview during which the methodological and critical skills acquired by the student will be evaluated . The student will be invited to discuss the texts covered during the course and to contextualise them in their historical epoch. The achievement of a systematic knowlege of the issues addressed during the classes and a critical approach to the sources combined with precision of language will be assessed with marks of excellence (28-30). Mechanical and / or mnemonic knowledge of the texts combined with scholastic exposé will be assessed by good marking (23-27); training gaps and superficial contextualization and knoledge of the texts will be assessed with sufficient markings (18-22). Lacks of any of the above requirements will lead to a negative marking.

Teaching tools

Use of ppt slides, photocopies and multimedia educational tools.

Office hours

See the website of Matteo Martelli