History of Science and Technology in Islam

The Arabic Origin of Summa perfectionis magisterii

And the Other Geber Latin Works


Arsenic in Geber’s Latin Works And in Jabir’s Arabic Treatises

We continue to present here some texts from Geber’s Latin works and their Arabic equivalents from Jabir ibn Hayyan. And since it is not feasible at this stage to follow a better plan, we shall adhere to our original strategy by publishing the information as it becomes available. We hope ultimately to prove that the alchemy in Geber’s Latin works is the same as that of Jabir ibn Hayyan. The reader is advised to review what we have published until now and it will become evident for him that we have been able so far to present a convincing case.

Our topic here is on some aspects of arsenic: its use in preparing the white elixir, its preparation, and its use in preparing Mars (iron). There will be more on arsenic in future articles.

A-  Arsenic is for the white and sulphur is for the red

Geber, Summa, Russell,[1] Chap. V, p. 61

It now remains that we at present speak of Arsenick. We say it is of a subtile Matter, and like to Sulphur; therefore it needs not be otherwise defined than Sulphur. But it is diversified from Sulphur in this, viz. because it is easily a Tincture of Whiteness, but of Redness most difficultly: and .Sulphur, of Whiteness most difficultly: but of Redness easily.


Jabir, Kitab tadbir al-arkan wa al-usul, Lory,[2] p. 142 (Fig. 1)

It should be believed also that sulphur is one of the spirits and it is essential for the work on gold; and arsenic is one of the spirits but it is essential for the work on silver, and if arsenic is used in the work of gold it will be deficient and if sulphur is used in the work of silver it will be deficient.

Fig. 1, From Kitab tadbir al-arkan wa al-usul of Jabir, Lory, p. 142


Jabir, kitab al-usul, NLM,[3] MS A 33, fol. 70b (Fig. 2)

Sulphur puts life into gold and improves it, and arsenic does for silver the same thing. So it is true in this preparation (bab) that sulphur should be used in the preparation for the red and arsenic for the preparation for the white.

Fig 2 From Kitab al-usul of Jabir, NLM MS A33, fol. 70b


B- Preparation of arsenic

Liber Fornacum, Chap. VIII, Russell,  p. 243

But Arsnick is sublimed thus, viz. From one pound of the Filings of Venus, half a pound of Common Salt, and one quarter of a pound of Allom calcined. First mortifie these with Vinegar, stirring them over a Fire, until the whole be blackned; and again, imbibe and dry, stirring as before; and do this the third time: then sublime the Azymum [4]  and it is profitable.


Jabir, kitab al-khalis al-mubarak,[5]  fols. 250a-250b (Fig. 3)

As to whitening of arsenic, grind yellow arsenic singly, then grind it with half its weight of iron or copper filings with strong vinegar. Then it is roasted. This is done three times. Then sublime it and it will out come white in one operation.



Fig.3  From Jabir, Kitab al-khalis al-mubarak, NLM, MS A33, folios 250a-250b


C- Preparation of Mars (iron) using arsenic

Invention of Verity, Russell, Chap.XIV . p.215

Of the preparation of Mars

Prepare Mars thus: Grind one pound of the Filings thereof, with half a pound of Arsnick sublimed. Imbibe the Mixture with the Water of Salt-Peter, and Salt- Alkali, reiterating this Imbibition thrice; then make it flow with violent Fire, and you will have your Iron white. Repeat this Labour, until it flow sufficiently, with peculiar Dealbation.[6]


Jabir, Kitab al-sab’in (the Book of Seventy),[7] Chapter 34 (Kitab al-naqd) on iron p. 188 (Fig. 4)

The best that is said of iron is to soften (mollify) it by any of the various kinds of preparations that are added to the seven metals. So know it. The method of making it softer is to melt it with arsenic first and descend it, and it will descend a white body like silver. It is also roasted with yellow arsenic and then descended and it will be better. And if it is roasted three times in three days with its own weight of yellow arsenic in a strong fire it will come out with an exhausted body because of arsenick. Then grind it and grind with it one third of its weight natrun (potassium nitrate) and knead it with oil and it will descend like silver.


Fig. 4 Jabir, Kitab al-sab’in, p. 188


Jabir, Kitab al-malaghim al-awwal [8]folio 4b  on the

preparation of Mars (tadbir al-marrikh) (Fig. 5)

After giving one method of preparation for iron Jabir continues:

A better method is to cleanse the filings (of iron) with water and salt which remove their blackness and dirt, then grind the filings with an equal amount of yellow arsenic and some potassium nitrates (natrun) or salt and some pomegranate rinds, dried  and powdered, and borax. Descend it and it will come out pure. It should be purified with such purifying methods and with those methods which we have given in other places. If God wills. 


Fig.5. Jabir, Kitab al-malaghim al-awwal folio 4b


Jabir, Al-Jumal al-‘ishrun,[9] maqala 13, MS Huseyin Celebi, 743/5,  p. 489  (Fig. 6)

As for iron, take one ratl from it and throw on it one ratl of yellow zarnikh (arsenic). Roast it in a hard fire after it was made into filings. Take it out after one night and throw on it half a ratl of yellow zarnikh then return it to roasting. Do this twice. Take it out and throw on it one ratl of red zarnikh and roast for the third time, Then take it out and purify its blackness by the descendory process. The descendory process is done by grinding with it one quarter of its weight of natrun, knead it with little oil and place it in but-bar-but and cover it...You descend it several times until it descends white and pure, better than silver in whiteness.


Fig. 6 Jabir ibn hayyan, kitab al-jumal al-‘ishrun, p.489



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

[2] Lory, Pierre, ed.,  L’élaboration de l’elixir supréme ;”Tadbir al-ixir al-a’zam, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Damas, 1988 : Arabic text.

[3] National Library of Medicine, MS A 33, Majmu’ nafis fi al-kimiya’, (A Valuable collection on alchemy). Kitab al-usul, by Jabir ibn Hayyan. fols. 58b-89a.

[4]  Unleavened, according to Russell, p. 263, or white matter, according to Russell, p. 243,footnote 1.

[5] NLM, MS A 33, Kitab al-khalis al mubarak, fols. 244b-252b.

[6] Whitening, Russell, p. 263

[7] Jabir ibn Hayyan, Kitab al-sab’in, (The Book of Seventy) , MS Huseyin Celebi, 743, reproduced by offset by Fuat Sezgin, Frankfurt, 1986.

[8] NLM, AS 33, Kitab al-malaghim al awwal, fols. 2a-10a.

[9] Jabir ibn Hayyan, Kitab al-jumal al-‘ishrun , MS Huseyin Celebi, 743/5, pp. 390-544.

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