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A Persian translation of the eleventh century Arabic alchemical treatise `Ain aṣ-ṣan`ah wa `aun aṣ-ṣana`ah by Maqbûl Aḥmad; B. B. Datta Review by: George Sarton Isis, Vol. 14, No. 1 (May, 1930), pp. 229-232 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 04/09/2012 08:15 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

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Reviews Maqbful Ah mad. - A Persian translation of the eleventh century Arabic alchemical treatise 'Ain as-san'ah wa 'aun as-sana'ah. To which is annexed a note on the chemistry of the processes given in the treatise, by B. B. DATTA. (Memoirs of the Asiatic Society, 8, 4I9-60). Calcutta, 1929 (Rs. i.i i.o). Some parts of the history of science have been so well investigated that our knowledge of them is fixed for some time at least - I almost wrote: that our knowledge of them is dead, for however much a scholar may love knowledge, he loves even more the continuous effort to obtain it. It is the changing and living knowledge that matters. (There is a famous saying of LESSINGon the subject, which I shall not quote however, not to spoil the reader's pleasure in remembering it himself). From that point of view, one of the most interesting chapters in the whole history of science, to-day, is that dealing with mediaeval chemistry, for it is one where our knowledge is rapidly developing. These studies on mediaeval chemistry imply the reading of a number of Arabic and Persian Mss., and this is being done in various countries, but nowhere better than in Calcutta. The guiding spirit of what may be conveniently called, the school of Calcutta, is Mr. HENRY ERNEST STAPLETON, Principal of Presidency College. Four important papers of his on Muslim chemistry have already appeared in the Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal: I. Salammoniac (vol. I, 25-42, 1905); 2. Alchemical equipment in the eleventh century, with R. F. Azo (vol. I, 47-70, 1905); 3. An alchemical compilation

of the thirteenth century, with the same (vol. 3, 57-94, I910); 4. Chemistry in 'Iraq and Persia in the tenth century, with the same and M. HIDAYAT This last paper was reviewed by me HUSAIN (vol. 8, 3I7-4I8, I927). in Isis, vol. II, I29-34. In the second paper (I905), the authors described a previously unknown Arabic treatise, 'Ain as-san'ah wa'aun as-sana'ah (Essence of the art and aid to the artisans), purporting to have been written at BaghdAd in 1034-35 (i) by ABU-L-HAKIM MU1jAMMAD IBN 'ABD AL-MALIK AL(i) According to the Persian text the date was be preferred, but the difference is immaterial.


The Arabic date must




(See my Introduction, vol. I, 723).

Unfortunately they had only an incomplete Ms. of it, but in I925 Mr. found in the libraryof the NizAmof Hyderabad,a Persian Ms. STAPLETON entitled Tarjumah 'ain as-san'ah, which proved to be an abbreviated summary of the whole Arabic treatise. Its study was intrusted to Mr. MAQBUL AHMAD,lecturer in Islamia College, Calcutta, and the present publication is the fruit of Mr. MAQB'UL'S efforts. For a summaryof the Persiantreatise,I cannot do better than reproduce the editor's own words (p. 420). After some introductory matter, the Persian translatorasgoeson to give a similar list of chaptersto that which precedes the list of names of the sages in the original. The first chapter deals with the names of substances and their division into ' spirits ' and ' bodies '. The second treats of the description of the characteristic properties of these substances. The third deals with manipulation (tadblr) and experiment (tajribah), and the extent of their use. The fourth is the same in both Mss., i.e., what are the substances required for making silver (qamar) and gold (shams). The descriptions of the fifth and sixth chapters are also the same in both versions, viz. :- the fifth deals with the instruments for the substances (reading adwiyat for adwat -' utensils ' of the Arabic text): and the sixth with the substitution of one substance for another. The seventh chapter is here said to give the proportions of the substances to be used, and the method by which the work is most easily carried out with small quantities; but from the actual translationfound later, it will be seen that the translator describes 4, instead of the 2, ' pillars ', or major operations, which are referred to in the catalogue at the beginning of the Arabic Ms. The translator also gives what may turn out to be the ' easy processes in every useful branch of the art ' that are mentioned in the Arabic text; and this forms by far the most interesting portion of the Persian text. These processes, however, are given under the separate heading of ' Chapter on experiment by testing and the use of proper quantities': and it is quite possible that this portion of the Persian text may be an altogetherseparatetreatise. Referenceis also made in it to ' four pillars ' but the processes given are quite different to those previously given in the rendering of the actual text of the 'Ain as-san'ah.)) A longer analysis follows (p. 423-37), including abundant notes. In one of these notes (p. 428) an extract from a previously unpublished portion of the Arabic text is Englished by Mr. M. HIDAYAT HUSAIN, and that Arabic text itself is published in appendix (p. 459-60). This enables one to compare the Persian and Arabic texts. The treatise is discussed from the chemical point of view by Prof. B. B. DATTA,of Presidency College. For the technical details I must


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refer to the memoir itself, but I may quote some of DATTA'Sconclusions (P. 438-40). ((The 'Ain as-san'ah, as its name implies, contains the essentials of the chemical knowledge of the iith century, with some practical hints for aiding the workers. The seventh chapter of the book in particular contains easy processes in every useful branch of the art as it prevailed at that time. The scope of chemical science in the Middle East was then almost entirely confined to a study of the common metals and their compounds. Experimental operations were guided mainly by the possibility of effecting the transmutation of baser metals into gold and silver - the avowed object of the alchemical art. It is therefore not at all surprising that the methods described in the chapter-under consideration are apparently concerned with producing passable imitations of silver from cheaper materials, especially copper, or with bringing about external and superficial changes in colour in the cheaper and baser metal. The contents of the treatise remind one of those of the Egyptian papyrus manuscripts on the same subject described by BERTHELOT in his ArcheIologie et Histoire des Sciences (pp. 266-307) with this difference that, whereas the latter were intended for the guidance of artisans, the Arabic works are essentially practical treatises on natural philosophy, written in the cause of the advancement of science, and not therefore primarily for the purpose of amassing wealth by faudulent means. From the elaborate details given in the 'Ain as-san'ah it seems fairly obvious that the author had actually personally tested the various processes he describes... )) ((According to modern ideas of chemistry, the methods described above will appear to be full of superfluous and unnecessary steps. But it must be remembered that it was BOYLE in the 17th century who first developed the theories of elements and compounds, as well as of analysis and synthesis, and thus laid the correct foundation of our modern science of chemistry. Before these principles were laid down, even great minds would necessarily waste their energies on superfluous detail, as they were not governed by correct theories, and hence their efforts were bound to be somewhat ineffective. The anthropomorphic view of matter based on Sufism, which, in turn, may very possibly have been based on Vedantism (the identity of organic and inorganic substance - both being in turn a manifestation of God) seems to have been responsible for these and similar errors. Material substances were assumed to be composed of ' body ' and ' spirit ' and just as ' spirit ' migrates from one human body to another in its different rebirths and thus attains final perfection, so, for the synthesis of the noble metals, it was thought necessary to go through successive stages and use substances containing



'spirits ' and ' souls ' of different degrees of perfection such as mercury, sal-ammoniac, arsenic sulphide, and sulphur. It may be recalled in this connection that as late as the third quarterof the 17th century JOHN MAYOWstill used the word ' spirit ' in referringto the substance common to both air and nitre, which brought about combustion... )) ((The appendixthat follows the seventh chapteris entitled' Experiment by testing and the use of proper quantities ' (or 'skilful manipulation'). The methods given in the 'Ain as-san'ah produce a homogenous substance of silvery appearance, whereas in the appendix the production of a white or yellow deposit on a metallic surface by an externallyapplied substance is described. )) A few illustrations representing chemical apparatus (aludel, oven, apparatusfor carryingout the processof solution under dung, descensory, alembic, bain-marie) are reproduced from the Ms. The Persian text covers 14 large pages, and is followed by the Arabic extract above-mentioned. The absence of a technical glossary is our only cause of complaint. It would have taken so little time to compile it, and so little space to publish it, and the usefulness of this edition for other students of mediaeval chemistry would have been materially increased.


Benevenutus Grassus of Jerusalem. -De oculis eorumqueegritudinibus et curis. Translated with notes and illustrations from the first printed edition, Ferrara, 1474 A.D. by CASEY A. WOOD. XIII + IOI p., 5 plates. Stanford University Press, 1929 ($ 5). This is a very elegant publication which will probably reveal the existence of BENEVENUTUSand of his treatise not only to the ( gens du monde)) but to many physicians as well. It contains the first English translation of the text of the princeps (Ferrara, 1474), an introduction of 22 p., a bibliography, and 5 facsimiles. It is relatively scholarly for an edition de luxe, but it can hardly be counted a contribution to knowledge. Of course it will be pleasant, even for scholars, to refer to this handy edition in their own tongue, but they did not really need it. Furthermore, the author's investigation might have been more thorough. For example, I do not profess to have made a special study of BENEVENUTUS, and yet with no effort I can at once correct and increase the information given by the author. To the Mss. mentioned by him should be added at least two. A Latin Ms., perhaps anterior to I400, in the public library of Hanover (quarto IV, 339), about which see KARL SUDHOFF,Ein neues Ms. des Ars nova (Archiv fur Geschichte der Medizin, vol. I, 384-85, i908). Another Latin Ms. of the fifteenth century in the library of Besan9on

Persian translation  
Persian translation  

Alchemical treatise