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Peter Starr. Towards a Context for Ibn Umayl, Known
to Chaucer as the Alchemist ‘Senior’

Çankaya Üniversitesi Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi,
Journal of Arts and Sciences Sayı: 11 / Mayıs 2009

Published in a Turkish Journal, but text in English.

This article will present what we know of the life and times of an important alchemist, Ibn Umayl. It is
entitled ‘Towards a Context’ because I have not yet consulted a number of his treatises, which are mostly
only available as manuscripts. Ibn Umayl’s position in alchemy accords with Hermetic doctrines, and may
have developed as a traditionalist reaction to developments in alchemy around the time of Jabir ibn Hayyan.
The paper offers an overview of the influence Ibn Umayl on western literature, beginning with a quotation
from The Canterbury Tales which shows knowledge of Ibn Umayl. The overview then goes on to look at the
reception of his works in Arabic-Islamic alchemy. The last part of the paper, which makes use of published
research and unpublished manuscripts, puts together what we know of his life, and places his ideas in the
context of a school of thought. The writer is inclined to agree with researchers who say that Ibn Umayl was
Egyptian, although the evidence is conflicting. Quoting The Pure Pearl and The Silvery Water in particular,
the article emphasizes the alchemist’s faithfulness to Hermetic doctrines, although in a particular, Islamic,
Keywords. Arabic-Islamic alchemy, The Silvery Water, The Pure Pearl, Latin alchemy, Tabula chemica,
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale.

Alexander Guthrie Stewart

Joined: Sat Feb 16th, 2008
Posts: 192
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THat's useful, thanks.

A lot of general books on alchemy written in English forget that it did continue in the Arabic world after the translations of the 12/13th century.   

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