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Geber (d. ca. 776 C.E.)

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 al-chemical 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.

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