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Alchemy discussion forum > Alchemy texts > Alchemy Texts > Possible origin of the idea for the use of dew in alchemy

Possible origin of the idea for the use of dew in alchemy
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adammclean
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 Posted: Wed Sep 26th, 2007 09:19 am
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Recently, while editing the text of the English translation of the  first book of the well known and influential work of Hieronymous  Braunschweig, his Book of Distillation, 1500, I noticed this passage:

"But if it fortuned that you should distil the dry herbs etc., you shall
every year in the month of May before the suns rising, when it is fair
weather, and has not rained by night, you shall take a fair white linen
cloth spread abroad and scaled or drawn over the grass in a fair lese [meadow]
or garden where as many fair herbs and flowers stand growing. The fair
lese or garden whereas you do this in, ought not to stand on a moist or
watery ground, nor in deep valleys, but upon high ground and as nigh
as it is possible, and then shall this cloth be wrung out in a glass, and
then do so again as often till you have enough. This dew must be
thoroughly distilled in Balneo Mariae and rectified as it shall be
hereafter shall be declared in the next chapter following. And so
keep that water from year to year. Then if you list [wish] to distil
within the year any dry herbs, then take such herbs as are dried in
the shadow as much as you will having its natural scent and odour,
and cast upon it three times of the aforenamed water of dew so much
that at every time the herbs be concryd [concrew, or joined together in a mass]."

This dates from 1500 and is from the Book of Distillation which was not a alchemy book as such but rather a guide to the craft of distilling. Distillation became a considerable industry in the 16th century. I cannot recall an earlier mention of the use of dew in an alchemical context, and most of the references to this seem to date to 17th century books. The mention in Braunschweig is some 177 years earlier than the Mutus Liber, 1677.  

adammclean
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 Posted: Thu Oct 4th, 2007 10:07 pm
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I see that the Zosimos piece refers to a macerating of the matters (species) by diluting them in some water. Then these resulting products are diluted with dew and exposed to sunlight.

Olympiodorus seems to take a different angle referring to the  earth (or matter) being impregnated with  dew. Then this, being placed in the rays of the sun, removes the dew spilled on the earth. He uses the metaphor of the earth being  widowed and deprived of its spouse. He calls the dew,  'aerial water'.

I wonder if Olympiodorus  is using the term 'dew' in a somewhat more metaphorical way than Zosimus, who here seems to more unambiguously be describing  dew as an actual water.

Braunschweig in his Book of Distillation suggests the use of dew as a special substance that helps revive herbs, or even rescue a distillate that has lost its essence. He advises collecting dew by using linen cloths in meadows, which seems to be echoed 170 years later by the Mutus Liber. Braunschweig ,of course, is not being in any way metaphorical. The Mutus Liber seems almost to be visually quoting Braunschweig.

Obviously, dew was special in alchemy in many ways, and the particular mysterious way it appeared in Nature, made it open to metaphorical expression (the Divine water, close to the heavenly, perhaps.)

 

Last edited on Thu Feb 14th, 2008 02:24 pm by alchemyd


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