Hans Rausing Lecture 2022
Lawrence M. Principe: "Theory, Practice, and Demonstration in Medieval Alchemy: John of Rupescissa’s Alchemical Preparations for the Antichrist"
The fourteenth-century Occitan Franciscan friar, alchemist, and prophet John of Rupescissa wrote two alchemical treatises, one on chrysopoeia (gold-making) and one on pharmaceutical medicine, both intended to help Christians survive the imminent arrival and persecutions of the antichrist. Although widely claimed to be derivative works that John compiled from literary sources while imprisoned by the Pope at Avignon, new critical editions of these works--together with modern laboratory reworkings of their processes--reveal John as a original theorist and an experienced practitioner. Indeed, his methodological principles stand in surprising contrast with contemporaneous Scholastic matter theory, and require a significant reevaluation of the operational principles and practices employed by Medieval alchemists. This lecture will describe John’s life, texts, and work, as well as their place in the broader history of chemistry.
Lawrence M. Principe is the Drew Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University in the departments of History of Science and Technology and of Chemistry. He hold a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University Bloomington, and a Ph.D. in History of Science from Johns Hopkins. His research focusses on late Medieval and early modern alchemy/chemistry, and the interactions of science and religion. His recent books include The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2011), The Secrets of Alchemy (Chicago, 2013), and The Transmutations of Chymistry: Wilhelm Homberg and the Académie Royale des Sciences (Chicago, 2020). He is recipient of the Francis Bacon Medal (2005), the Prix Franklin-Lavoisier (2016), and the American Chemical Society’s HIST Award (2020) for his contributions to the history of chemistry.