History of Science and Technology in Islam

The Arabic Origin of Summa perfectionis magisterii

And the Other Geber Latin Works


The Three Orders of Medicines

Comparing Summa’s Latin Text with the Book of Seventy’s Arabic Text



The Sources of Summa and the Book of Seventy

Among the five works attributed to Geber the Summa was the masterpiece that was targeted since the end of the nineteenth century by a generation of historians of science with fixed ideas trying to give credibility to a speculation that the Summa and the other Geber works were written by a Latin author and not by Jabir ibn Hayyan.[1]

Newman was the last of such a hierarchy. He ventured into the unusual undertaking of contriving a complicated maze of speculations to prove that a certain previously unknown Latin writer was the author of the Summa.[2] He could not avoid, however, the fact that the Summa contains important elements from the Book of Seventy of Jabir.  He mentioned three cases of similarities in style between the Summa and the Book of Seventy and one case of a technical nature. These are some of his statements [3]:

-The style and mode of presentation adopted by the Summa are largely based on the L.Septuaginta (Book of 70) of Jâbir ibn Hayyan,

- The influence of the 70 Books upon the Summa was nothing short of considerable.

- It has long been remarked, in addition, that the language of the Latin Geber betrays some Arabic touches

- The Summa contains whole formulaic passages rewritten from the 70 Books.

- The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the 70 Books formed the primary literary and stylistic basis of the Summa, whose author was intentionally copying their inflated initiatic style.

 - The author of the Summa, deliberately borrowed whole passages from the 70 Books and rewrote them in the attempt to pass himself off as the Arabic Jâbir.

- These particular formulae are completely lacking in the other Arabo-Latin texts which could have served as the Summa's sources.

The assumption by Newman that a pseudo Latin author of the Summa had intentionally inserted whole passages from the Book of Seventy to pass himself as an Arabic Jabir is ludicrous and cannot be taken seriously. We have already specified in our articles an adequate amount of cases of similarity between the Summa and Jabir’s texts that make Newman’s hypothesis untenable.

Whereas Newman acknowledged the dependency of the Summa on the Book of Seventy in certain important aspects, yet he maintained that the remote Arabo-Latin sources of the Summa were not the works of Jabir. He says:

“It is hardly surprising that the author of the Summa would have preferred the descriptions of technology presented in the L.secretorum de voce Bubacaris or the De re tecta to the half enunciated recipes of the badly translated 70 Books.” [4]

Newman’s structure of sources of the Summa starts with Rhazes’ Latin translations; and envisages that the direct source is a previously unknown treatise of an obscure Latin author.[5] We may remark that the Summa as a work dealing with the theory of alchemy, as well as with the practical side, cannot be derived from al-Razi’s Latin works that are renowned by their practical character and are nearly devoid of theory.

On the other hand, all the basics of theoretical and practical alchemy in Geber’s Latin works, are contained in Jabir’s Arabic treatises, and there is no need to speculate or to let imagination run off track about the rational sources of the Summa. We shall give in a forthcoming article a list of the extant Arabic works of Jabir that deal with practical alchemy and chemistry. And despite the distorted picture that Newman and his predecessors had painted for the Book of Seventy, it is in fact a systematic work on Jabirian alchemy that is rich in the theory and practice of alchemy and chemistry.[6]


Theories of alchemy in  the Summa and in Jabir’s works – the three medicines

We have already revealed in our articles that some of the most important parts of the theory of alchemy in the Summa are of Arabic Jabirian origin, We have discussed the materials of the elixir (article II), the sulphur-mercury theory and the occult and the manifest principle (article VII), and the two exhalations concept (article XI), and we compared the texts of the Summa with the Arabic ones. The comparisons of the texts gave irrefutable evidence that the Summa in the discussed theoretical topics is based on the Arabic texts of Jabir.

In the present article we turn our attention to another concept in the Summa which is the “three orders of medicines”. The general idea is outlined in one chapter in Russell’s translation,[7] and its applications occupied ten other chapters. Again, it was the central theme in the final recapitulation chapter of the whole Summa. [8]

In the Book of Seventy of Jabir, the concept of the three orders of medicines (al-tadabir al-thalatha  التدابيرالثلاثة) is mentioned is numerous chapters.[9] It is also used frequently in the One Hundred and Twelve Books (CXII) of Jabir.[10] And since our sole purpose in these articles is to discuss cases of similarities between the Summa and its Arabic sources, our account here of the concept of the three medicines in Jabir’s works is not exhaustive.

Only part of the Book of Seventy is extant in Latin translation under the title Liber septuaginta.[11] We do not know whether Gerard of Cremona.in the 12th century translated the whole work or not.[12] But the chapters that exist in Latin are less than half the seventy Arabic chapters. Furthermore, these Latin chapters are selections and are not complete translations.


Newman had chosen a reference to the concept of the three medicines in Liber septuaginta in a translation of chapter 33 (Kitab al-nasi الناصع) of the Book of Seventy that deals with tin (Jupiter المشتري) He had chosen also another reference at the end of Liber septuaginta which corresponds to the concluding chapter 70, (Kitab al-bayan كتاب البيان ). He reported the similarities between the Latin texts of both the Liber septuaginta and the Summa.


We shall not deal here with the Latin texts. Instead, we shall give the Arabic texts with their English translations, together with the English translation of the Summa texts.


Book of Seventy, excerpt from chapter 33 (Kitab al-nasi or al-mushtari -Jupiter), pp. 182-183[13]


In this book (dealing with tin or Jupiter), Jabir says:

 “We have devoted one separate book in these books of ours for each metal. We discussed the methods of preparation for some of them. But the method of preparation of one metal is the same for all. We also discussed the diseases and the methods of curing them, and what is said about one applies to all; know this.


Learn also that the transformation of these metals to the perfect element (الجوهر الكامل al-jawhar al-kamil) can be achieved by three methods. Either by a great elixir which transmutes (the metal) in a short time instead of the long period it would take, and it will become the same as pure elements. That was one method out of the three.


Or, its transformation from a corrupted state to a good one can be effected by fire only. This is the method by which metals are transformed to their original entity, and we shall mention this method in our present books..


Another method is to treat every one of these metals by drugs that are indicated in our books. Another way is to use related drugs which act without delay and they will be (in their effect) like the ones that have been acting over a long period…


Their transformation by fire only, without drugs or anything else, has another way which is the method of alloys or mixtures (al-trakib  التراكيب). This is to alloy or mix metals one over the other out of which will result a good pure element without any drug except that which will take care of it. The method of alloys or mixtures has another way which is to alloy some metals and to treat also with drugs and something good will result.


I shall give you examples of every method that I have (just) mentioned so that you work on it and make it easy to comprehend and so that you can apply it in your work after you become confident of its validity in your mind.


Figure 1 (a) Book of Seventy, p. 182


Figure 1 (b) Book of Seventy, p.183

Book of Seventy,  excerpt from chapter 70, (Kitab al-bayan), p.359

Jabir says that the aim of this final chapter (number 70 which is Kitab al-bayan), is to give further interpretations to the preparations (tadabir) that were given in the preceding chapters (books ). Each of the four elements of the stone,( fire, air, water and earth) should be given equal preparation. He says also that preparation of the first order (martaba مرتبة) requires seven hundred distillations or sublimations and this is the ultimate in the preparation of the great elixir (al-bab al a’zam الباب الاعظم ). Then he continues:

 “As to the second order, it is below the first order (inferior to it), It is one tenth of it. The elements in this order are to be also equal  If an element that is nobler than the others joins in, it will not corrupt them, but they will be corrupted by one that is not of the same rank (baser). That is why we made it conditional from the start that in the preparation of the elements no one (element) should leave its companion(s).This is the second order; it is lower than the first and we have exlpained it completely.[14]


The third order is one tenth in comparison with the second; therefore it is one tenth of one tenth of the first. The explanation of this order is the same as the second, so know this and ascertain it.”


Fig 2, Book of Seventy, p.

Summa’s text on the three medicines, Newman’s translation,Thesis, vol. iv pp.171-173

On the Triple Difference of Medicines

We intimate that it happens necessarily that a triple difference of the medicines exists. One is of the first order, another of the second, and <still> another of the third. But I call a medicine of the first order any preparation of minerals which impresses an alteration if projected onto the bodies removed from perfection which does not bring <it> to the full complement, without it happening that the altered be mutated and corrupted, with a total evaporation of the medicine's impression. Of this sort is every sublimation for whitening venus or mars which does not receive fixation. And of this sort is every additive of the color of sol and luna, or of venus, put above the vapor of a cement of Zimar and the like, mixed together For this mutates in an impermanent mutation, not remaining but rather diminishing, through <its> exhalation. But we call the medicine of the second order every preparation which, when it has been projected upon the bodies removed from perfection, alters <them> into something different from the goal, with certain of the

differences of corruption wholly remaining. Of this sort is the calcination of the bodies by which everything fugitive is deleted. The medicine perpetually yellowing luna or whitening venus with <all> the other differences of corruption being left in them, is of this genus. But I call the medicine of the third order every preparation which, when it arrives at the bodies, destroys all <their> corruption with its projection, and perfects <them> with the difference of the whole complement. This is unique <and> alone, and we are thereby freed from the labors of discovering the ten medicines of the second order. Therefore, the work of the first order is called the lesser <work>, that of the second the middle, and <that> of the third, the greater. This is the sufficient difference of all the medicines.

Summa’s final chapter, Newman’s translation, Thesis, vol. iv, pp. 214-215


Epilogue of the End of the Whole Magistery

Because we have thoroughly treated the known tests of the causes of this magistery according to the requirement of our proposed discourse, it remains that we arrive at the goal of the whole divine work in one chapter, and contract the magistery dispersed in <our> chapters in <one> summa of abbreviated discourse. We therefore say-that the sum of the whole work's intention is only that the stone noted in <various> chapters be taken. Then with steadfastness of work, let the operation of sublimation of the first degree be carried out upon it, and by this let it be cleansed from corrupting impurity. [This is] the perfection of sublimation; with it let the stone be subtilized (subtiliation) [15] until its arrive at the final purity of subtlety, and become as volatile as possible. Then let it be fixed with the methods cf fixation, until it rest quiet in the fierceness of fire. This is the second goal or degree of preparation, and in. this one goal of preparation consists. But the stone is also administrated in a third degree, which stands firm in the final end of perfection. It is namely that you make the now fixed stone volatile with the techniques of sublimation, <then> the volatile fixed, the fixed soluble, and again volatile, and the volatile again fixed, until it flοw and again change, in a certain solar and lunar complement. From repetition of preparation in the medicine of this third degree, there results a multiplication of the goodness of its alteration. Hence from the diversity of repetition of the work upon the stone in its degrees, there results a diversity of the multiplication of the alteration cf its goodness, sο that οne medicine transmute twice as much as itself intο a true solar and lunar body of perfection, another ten times as much, another one hundred, another one thousand, and another into infinity. Hence let it finally be ascertained whether the magistery rest in perfection


 Comparing the Summa with the Book of Seventy


1. Regarding the three medicines, Newman gave a comparison between the Summa and L.Septuaginta. The Arabic text that is presented here is not much different from the text of L.Septuaginta, which proves that the translation of Gerard of Cremona was nor far removed from the Arabic origin.

2. The Summa and the Book of Seventy give reasonably similar accounts of the three medicines. But, as Newman had observed, the Summa gives the three medicines in an ascending order while the Book of Seventy gives them in a descending one.

3. The final chapters in both the Summa and the Book of Seventy are recapitulations of their respective books. Both discuss the relative effectiveness of the three medicines. The Book of Seventy gives them in the descending ratio of 100:10:1; while the ratio in the Summa (after disregarding an anomaly according to Newman).is in the ascending order of 1:10:100,

4. Newman concluded that the text of the Summa dealing with the three medicines is a re-working from the Book of Seventy. In other words, according to Newman, “the Book of Seventy supplied the author of the Summa with his concept of three medicines.”

5. We do not agree with Newman in his statement thatthe Summa is essentially a work of Aristotelian inspiration, and hence largely unconcerned with Jabir's "four natures" or the "theory of the balance".


 It is sufficient to remind here that the alchemy of Jabir was of an Aristotelian origin in regard to the four natures, the four elements and the two exhalations;[16] the Summa does not differ from Jabir’s alchemy in this respect as we have seen.


The theory of the balance is only one portion of Jabir’s alchemy and it is not discussed in all his works. We do not see this theory in several of Jabir’s important works including the Book of Seventy.


 The Summa, from what we have seen until now, looks like an abridged and simplified version of Jabir’s alchemy. However, the final picture will become more defined as we go along.




[1] Prominent among the historians of science who led the campaign are Berthelot, Von Lippmann and Ruska.

[2] Newman, William, The Summa Perfectionis and Late Medieval Alchemy, Ph. D. Thesis, Harvard University, Four Volumes, 1986. Newman published the main part of his thesis in book form as: The Summa Perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber: A Critical Edition, Translation, and Study (Collection De Travaux De L'academie Internationale D'historie De science), Brill, 1991.

[3] Newman, Thesis,vol I, pp.171-180

[4] Newman, op. cit, p.177

[5] Chart of Newman, op. cit., 104

[6] Paul Kraus, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Vol. I; reproduced by Georg Olms, 1989, p. 43.

[7] Russell, The Alchemical Works of Geber, Translated by Richard Russell, Introduction by E. J. Holmyard, Reproduced by Samuel Weiser,  1994.

[8] In Russel’s translation the three medicines’ concept and its applications occupied chapters X- XX of Part II , the Second Book, (pages 161-177), and again Chapter XIII of Part III (pp. 194-196).. In Newman’s translation, in his Ph.D. Thesis,  the concept and its applications are given on pages 171-195, and again in the Epilogue on pages 214-215.

[9] The cocept of the three medicines occurs in numerous chapters of the Book of Seventy. A quick survey revealed that it is mentioned or discussed in the following chapters: The first ten chapters; chapter 33,Kitab al nasi’ or al-Mushtari (كتاب الناصع او المشتري ) ; chapter 41, Kitab al-tafasir (كتاب التفاسير); chapter 42, Kitab al-talkhis  (كتاب التلخيص); chapter 43, Kitab al-wujud (كتاب الوجود ); chapter 46, Kitab al-Huda (كتاب الهدى ); chapter 47, Kitab al-ajnas (كتاب الاجناس);chapter 52, Kitab al-salaf (كتاب السلف);  chapter 59, Kitab al-hudud (كتاب الحدود ). Chapter 60, Kitab al-a’rad (كتاب الاعراض.) and in chapter 70, Kitab al-bayan (كتاب البيان .)

[10] Kitab Ustuquss al-Uss al-Thani, Published by Eric John Holmyard, The Arabic Works of Jabir ibn Hayyan, edited with English translation, Paris, 1928, p. 93, reproduced by Fuat Sezgin,Natural Sciences in Islam, Vol. 69, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Texts`and Studies, vol. I,Frankfurt, 2002,  pp.201-202

[11] Berthelot, M., Archéologie et Hιstoire des Sciences (Mem.. de !'Acad. des Sciences, XLIX , 1906), pp. 308-363 ; reproduced by Fuat Sezgin,Natural Sciences in Islam, Vol. 71,, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Texts`and Studies, vol. III,Frankfurt, 2002, pp. 1-66.,

[12] Ruska, Julius, Die siebzig Bücher des Gabir ibn Hajjan,article reproduced by Fuat Sezgin in Natural Sciences in Islam, Vol. 70, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Texts`and Studies, vol. II, Frankfurt, 2002, pp. 32- 41.

[13] Jabir ibn Hayyan, Kitab al-sab’in  كتاب السبعين  (The Book of Seventy), MS Huseyin Celebi 743, facsimile edition by Fuat Sezgin, Frankfurt, 1986.

[14] The second order was the one that was the most discussed in the various chapters of the Book of Seventy.

[15] Subtiliate: To make thin or rare (1913 Webster)

[16] See for example F. Sherwood Taylor, The Alchemists, Founders of Modern Chemistry,
Heinemann London 1951; reproduced by Kessinger, U.S.A.,
pp. 80-81.

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