Geber (d. ca. 776 C.E.)
Arabian alchemist whose real name has been variously stated
as Dschabir Ben Hayyan or Abou Moussah Djafar al Sofi. According
to the tenth-century Kitab-al-Fihrist, Geber was born at
Tarsus and lived at Damascus and Kufa. Very little is known of
his early life. He undertook wide experiments in metallurgy
and chemistry with the object of discovering the constituent elements
of metals, in the course of which he stumbled upon nitric
acid and red oxide of mercury. It is upon such actual discoveries
that his reputation is based, not upon the many
spurious treatises that have been attributed to him and embrace
the entire gamut of eighth-century science.
His alleged extant works, which are in Latin, are regarded
with suspicion, especially since several other medieval writers
adopted his name. It is believed, however, that the library at
Leyden and the Imperial Library at Paris contain Arabic manuscripts
that might have been written by him. His books Sum of
Perfection and Investigation into the Perfection of Metals are his
most important works. Complete editions were published at
Dantzic in 1682 and are included in the Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa
of Mangetus, published at Cologne in 1702.
Sum of Perfection professes to draw its inspiration from alchemical
authors who lived before Geber, but because alchemy
was not advanced at that time the derivation is an unlikely one.
The book states that success in the great art is only to be
achieved by rigid adherence to natural law. A spirit of great
strength and a dry water are spoken of as the elements of the
natural principle. The philosophical furnace and its arrangement
are dealt with in detail, as is the ‘‘philosopher’s vessel,’’
a glass vase with several intricate details.
Federman, Reinhold. The Royal Road of Alchemy. New York
Chilton, 1969.