Podcast episode

Episode 158: Bink Hallum on the Extended Zosimus

In the last episode, with Matteo Martelli, we covered the basics of Zosimus of Panopolis in Greek and Syriac: times and dates, questions of authenticity, chemical recipes, but also a fascinating world view with elements of astral stuff, Hermetic lore, alphanumeric speculation, and all the things we love about Zos. But Zosimus has a textual life which extends beyond late antiquity, through the middle ages, and into the modern period, and to access this Zosimus you need to look at his works as they survive in Arabic.

In this episode we do just that, with the expert help of Dr Bink Hallum. We discuss the basics of what is extant in Arabic and how it got to look the way it does (e.g. having become a dialogue, when in Greek it almost certainly wasn’t). We turn then to the Muṣḥaf al-ṣuwar, a richly-illustrated alchemical dialogue between Zosimus and Theosebia, surviving only in a single Arabic MS, and comprising our earliest alchemical emblem-book (see Gallery below for some gems from this work). We have a run-down of the Nachleben of Zosimus in Arabic alchemical literature.

Zosimus’ world-view then comes under discussion, with some emphasis on elements of it that can only be reconstructed from the Arabic material:

  • the weird dichotomies which seem to animate his thought, such as the ambivalent (to say the least) status of daimones, which can be evil tricksters but equally one’s personal allotted daimōn or simply quasi-natural forces to be understood by the adept,
  • the ambivalent function of sacrifices (some feed evil demons; others – those taught by a certain Mambres to king Solomon – can be used to drive them off),
  • the mysterious ‘nine letters’, originally found in the Sibylline Oracles, which feature heavily in the Arabic Zosimus tradition as having an apotropaic, quasi-talismanic function,
  • and the fascinating Zosimean reception of the Enochic material found in the Book of Watchers and related texts.

Interview Bio:

Dr Bink Hallum is Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator at the British Library, and is currently doing Wellcome-Trust-funded postdoctoral research at the University of Warwick on the alchemical Twelve Books of Abū Bakr al-Rāzī. His research centres on Islamicate codicology, Græco-Arabic studies, the history of the sciences, and loads of other interesting stuff.

Works Cited in this Episode:



  • On Adam and the ‘Inner Light’ or ‘Inner Man’: On the Letter Omega I.9–16 Mertens.
  • On the personal daimōn as channel for astral fate in alchemy and evil demons seeking to trick humans: On the Letter Omega  I.2–3 Mertens; The Final Account (ed. Festugière, pp. 366–67).
  • The lessons which fate can teach us: On the Letter Omega I.4 and 7 Mertens.
  • Nilus & Co.’s alchemy based on propitiating demons: For references, see Hallum, ‘Zosimus Arabus’ (2008), pp. 213–27 and Hallum, ‘Neilos (ca 250-300 ce)’ (2008).
  • The nine letters: Orac. Sib., 1.137–46 (ed. Lightfoot, pp. 278 and 307, with notes on pp. 387–90); the riddle of the nine letters in the Greek alchemical corpus (Stephanus of Alexandria, ed. Ideler, vol. 2, p. 225.13; CAAG, vol. 2, II.iv [Olympiodorus], III.vi,71 [the second anonymous philosopher, not Zosimos as thought by Berthelot], and IV.iv [Riddle of the Philosophical Stone of Hermes and Agathodaimon]); the nine letters in the Syriac Zosimos (Berthelot and Duval, Histoire des sciences [1893], vol. 2, pp. 242–43 and 264–66).
  • Numerical-puzzle reference to Mani: On the Letter Omega  I.14 Mertens.

Syncellus cites Zosimus:  Ecloga Chronographica 24, ed. A.A. Mosshammer (Leipzig: Teubner, 1984, in English at The Chronography of George Synkellos: a Byzantine Chronicle of Universal History from the Creation, trans. W. Adler and P. Tuffin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Zos. And Theo. as symbols for alchemical substances in 10th century Iraq: Muḥammad ibn Umail, Book of the Explanation of the Symbols. Kitāb Ḥall al-Rumūz, edited by Theodor Abt, Wilferd Madelung and Thomas Hofmeier, translated by Salwa Fuad and Theodor Abt (Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2003), pp. 56–58.

The images of Zos. and Theo. in the Muṣḥaf al-ṣuwar known in 10th century Spain: Maslama ibn al-Qāsim al-Qurṭubī, Rutbat al-Ḥakīm, The Book of the Rank of the Sage, edited by Wilferd Madelung (Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2016), pp. 114–17.


SHWEPisode 110 on the Sibylline Oracles is here; Episode 51 on the Enochic textual tradition is here.

Theodor Abt. The Book of Pictures. Mushaf as-suwar by Zosimus of Panopolis. Facsimile with an Introduction. Number II.i in Corpus Alchemicum Arabicum. Living Human Heritage Publications, Zurich, 2007.

Bull, Christian H., ‘Wicked Angels and the Good Demon: The Origins of Alchemy According to the Physics of Hermes’, Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies 3 (2018), pp. 3–33.

Recommended Reading:

Access to Primary Texts:

Berthelot, Marcellin and Rubens Duval, Histoire des sciences: La chimie au moyen âge, vol. 2: L’alchimie syriaque (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1893).

CAAG = Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, 3 vols, ed. and trans. M. Berthelot and Ch.-Em. Ruelle (Paris: Georges Steinheil, 1883–88).

The Sibylline Oracles, with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on the First and Second Books, edited and translated by J.L. Lightfoot (Oxford–New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Stephanus of Alexandria, Lessons, in Physici et medici graeci minores, 2 vols, ed. by J.L. Ideler, (Berlin: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1841), vol. 2, pp. 199–247.

Idem, The Book of Pictures. Muṣḥaf al-ṣuwar, Corpus alchemical Arabicum 2.1, ed. T. Abt (Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2007) [facsimile edition of İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Kütüphanesi, MS 1574].

Idem, The Book of the Keys of the Work. Kitāb mafātīḥ al-ṣanʿa, Corpus alchemical Arabicum 3, ed. and trans. Salwa Fuad and T. Abt (Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2016)

Idem, The Final Account (ἡ Τελευταία ἀποχή), in André-Jean Festugière, La Révelation d’Hermès Trismégiste, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1950), pp. 275–82 (French translation), 363–68 (Greek text).

Zosimus de Panopolis: Mémoires authentiques, Les Alchemistes Grecs 4.1, ed. and trans. M. Mertens (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1995).

Zosimus of Panopolis: On the Letter Omega, ed. and trans. H. M. Jackson (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978).


Fraser, Kyle A., ‘Zosimos of Panopolis and the Book of Enoch: Alchemy as Forbidden Knowledge’, Aries 4.2 (2004), pp. 125–47.

Hallum, Bink, ‘Essay Review: The Tome of Images: An Arabic Compilation of Texts by Zosimos of Panopolis and a Source of the Turba Philosophorum’, Ambix 56.1 (2009), pp. 76–88; reprint with corrections in Peter E. Pormann (ed.), Islamic Medical and Scientific Tradition, (London: Routledge, 2011), vol. 3, pp. 329–44.

Idem, ‘Neilos (ca 250-300 ce)’, Encyclopedia of Ancient Natural Scientists: The Greek Tradition and Its Many Heirs, ed. P.T. Keyser & G.L. Irby-Massie (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 1281–82.

Idem, ‘Theosebeia (ca 250-300 ce)’, Encyclopedia of Ancient Natural Scientists: The Greek Tradition and Its Many Heirs, ed. P.T. Keyser & G.L. Irby-Massie (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 1810–11.

Idem, Zosimus Arabus. The Reception of Zosimos of Panopolis in the Arabic/Islamic World (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 2008).

Idem, ‘Zōsimos of Panopolis (ca 250-300 ce)’, Encyclopedia of Ancient Natural Scientists: The Greek Tradition and Its Many Heirs, ed. P.T. Keyser & G.L. Irby-Massie (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 1915–18.

Idel, Moshe, ‘The Origin of Alchemy According to Zosimus and a Hebrew Parallel’, Revue des études juives 145.1–2 (1986), pp. 117–24.

Stolzenberg, Daniel, ‘Unpropitious Tinctures: Alchemy, Astrology and Gnosis According to Zosimos of Panopolis’, Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences 49 (1999), pp. 3–31.


‘Image of a golden man with a black head and red hands, hanging from the legs of a man with two wings who is flying away with him’ (صورة رجل مذهب أسود الرأس أحمر اليدين متعلق برجلي رجل عليه جناحان يطير به). İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Kütüphanesi, MS 1574, fols 102r (description) and 102v (image).
‘Image of Theosebeia holding with her right hand the forelock of a man in clothes of red with sheets of gold them, and with her left hand on the wing of a man with two wings on whose head is a crescent moon embracing a young man in clothes of green with sheets of gold on them, who is wrapped between his legs. And an image of Theosebeia carrying two men, one of whom has a Sun and the other has a Moon. And an image of a lake in which is water the colour of the sky.’ (صورة يتوسانية آخذة بيدها اليمنى بناصية رجل عليه ثياب حمر عليها صفائح الذهب وبيدها اليسرى على جناح رجل له جناحان على رأسه هلال محتضنًا غلامًا عليه ثياب خضر عليها صفائح ذهب ملتفًا بين رجليه وصورة يتوسانية محتملة رجلين إحداهما على رأسه شمس والآخر على رأسه قمر وصورة بحيرة فيها ماء لون السّماء). İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Kütüphanesi, MS 1574, fols 128r (description) and 128v (image).
‘Zosimus and Theosebeia standing, each of them pointing towards the other as we described at the beginning of the Tome (i.e. Muṣḥaf 7). And an image of three men in one body on whom are wings’ (زوسم ويتوسانية قائمين يشير احدهما إلى الآخر على ما وصفنا في رأس هذا المصحف وصورة ثلثة رجال في بدن واحد عليهم أجنحة). İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Kütüphanesi, MS 1574, fols 139v (description) and 140r (image).



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