Podcast episode

Episode 157: Matteo Martelli Introduces Zosimus of Panopolis

‘Zosimus’ dreams are full of gods. Sometimes very weird gods …’.

Under the expert guidance of Matteo Martelli, we introduce arguably the greatest alchemical authority of antiquity, Zosimus of Panopolis. Writing in Middle Egypt early in the fourth century, Zosimus is a fascinating thinker, combining in his overarching concern with the transformations of metals and other substances integral concerns with spiritual development along lines often described as both ‘Hermetic’ and ‘Gnostic’.

We discuss the basics of Zosimus’ (auto)biography, along with the main ‘cast of characters’ found in his works: Theosebia, alchemist and addressée of many of Zosimus’ writings, Nilus, a priest-alchemist whom Zosimus thinks is a dangerous fool messing with demons and astral manipulation, and Maria the Jewess, an earlier alchemist upon whose writings (along with those of the Pseudo-Democritus and the Thrice-Great Hermes) Zosimus founds his own practice. We discuss Zosimus’ chief works surviving in Greek, which can be divided up into three collections or epitomes (Zosimus’ works as he wrote them may be lost to us, as what we have is the result of a long process of East-Roman curatorial work): the Authentic Records, the Chapters to Eusebia, and Chapters to Theodorus, along with the loose texts The Final Account or Final Withholding (which we shall be covering in detail in a special episode, because it’s the business!) and the Book of Sophē the Egyptian (more survives in Arabic, but we’ll get to that in a separate episode).

We then turn to what’s in the surviving books of Zosimus. He wants to transform metals by deeply ‘dyeing’ them, such that their actual nature is changed from one metal to another. Quicksilver is somehow connected with the basic substance underlying all materials (or it may be that substance). The question of embodiment in Zosimus: how does something become a body, and how does a body become a spirit (pneuma)? There follows further discussion of the importance of pneuma in Zosimus’ theory.

We then get into the ‘spiritual’ side of Zosimus’ alchemy – a category which we have already decided is an anachronistic one, but okay – and discuss his dream-descriptions and citations of Hermetic tractates. Why dreams, and what is Zosimus telling us with his dream-narrations? This is a very good question, which we approach from a few angles without attempting anything so foolhardy as an answer.

We then turn to modern work with Zosiman recipes in the chemical laboratory, and discuss the famous ‘spit on matter’ passage from The Final Account, which brings the conversation to matters demonological and astral; the true alchemist does not rely on daimones (like the accursed Nilus does) for her alchemical procedures, but relies on nature. After this solvere section, distinguishing the ‘material’ versus ‘spiritual’ aspects of Zosimus’ alchemy, comes a final coagulare, where Professor Martelli brings them back together into the organic unity they actually are in his writings.

Interview Bio:

Matteo Martelli is Professor of the History of Science at the University of Bologna, and Principal Investigator of the ERC funded project AlchemEast. His published works include the first critical edition with English translation of the Pseudo-Democritus.

Works Cited in this Episode:


The Suda’s entry for Zosimus (ζ 168), translation from the Suda Online project: Of Alexandria, philosopher. [He wrote] Matters Alchemical, addressed to his sister Theosebia; it is alphabetically arranged in 28 volumes, and known by some as Things Wrought By Hand; and the Life of Plato [sc. is by him].

Ælius Aristides on hypnagogy: e.g. Hieroi logoi II.32.

Zosimus of Panopolis: ‘Spit on matter!’ The Final Account (Teleutaia Apochē) 8.


Our interview with Gil Renberg on ancient incubation is SHWEPisode 70;  you’ll find our discussion of Ælius Aristides in Episode 72.

Berthelot and Ruelle’s edition/translation: see below.

Christian H. Bull. The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus: the Egyptian Priestly Figure as a Teacher of Hellenized Wisdom. Brill, Leiden, 2018.

André-Jean Festugière. La révélation d’Hermes Trismegiste. J. Gabalda, Paris, 1944- 1954. 4 vols.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff. Hermetic Spirituality and the Historical Imagination: Altered States of Knowledge in Late Antiquity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2022.

C. G. Jung. Alchemical Studies. In C. G. Jung, editor, The Visions of Zosimus, pages 59–108. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1967.

Idem. Jung on Alchemy. Routledge, London, 1995.

Anna van den Kerchove. La voie d’Hermès: Pratiques rituelles et traités hermétiques. Brill, Leiden, 2012.

J.-P. Mahé. Hermès en Haute-Égypte: les textes hermétiques de Nag Hammadi et leurs parallèles grecs et latins. Number 3 in Bibliotèque Copte de Nag Hammadi, Textes. Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec, 1978.

Idem. Hermès en Haute-Égypte: le fragment du discours parfait at les définitions Hermétiques arméniennes (NH VI, 8.8a). Number 7 in Bibliotèque Copte de Nag Hammadi, Textes. Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec, 1982.

Michèle Mertens’ edition/translation: see below.

Jennifer Rampling on “practical exegesis”: Jennifer M. Rampling. The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy 1300-1700. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2020.

Recommended Reading:

Editions and/or translations of texts attributed to Zosimus:

Th. Abt, S. Fuad. The Book of Pictures. Muṣḥaf aṣ-Ṣuwar by Zosimos of Panopolis. Zürich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2011

Idem. The Book of the Keys of the Work, Kitāb Mafātīḥ aṣ-ṣan‘a by Zosimos of Panopolis. Zürich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2016

M. Berthelot, R. Duval. La chimie au Moyen Ȃge, vol. 2: L’alchimie syriaque. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1893, pp. 203-266

M. Berthelot, C.É. Ruelle. Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, 3 vols. Paris: G. Steinheil, 1887-1888 [Greek text: vol. 2, pp. 107-252; French translation: vol. 3, pp. 117-242]

A. H. Jackson. Zosimos of Panopolis. On the letter Omega. Missoula (Montana): Society of Biblical Literature, 1978

M. Mertens. Les alchimistes grecs. Tome IV,1: Zosime de Panopolis, Mémoires authentiques. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1995

Sh. F. Taylor. ‘The Visions Of Zosimos.’ Ambix, 1.1 (1937): 88–92

A. Tonelli. Zosimo di Panopoli, visioni e risvegli. Milano: BUR, 2004


Ch. H. Bull. ‘Wicked Angels and the Good Demon. The Origins of Alchemy According to the Physica of Hermes.’ Gnosis, 3.1 (2018): 3–33

Idem. ‘Hermes between Pagans and Christians: The Nag Hammadi Hermetica in Context.’ In: H. Lundhaug, L. Jenott (eds.), The Nag Hammadi Codices and Late Antique Egypt. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018, pp. 207–260

A. De Jong, Albert. ‘Zosimus of Panopolis.’ In: W. J. Hanegraaff et al. (ed.), Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. Leiden: Brill, 2006, pp. 1183–1186.

O. Dufault. ‘Transmutation Theory in the Greek Alchemical Corpus.’ Ambix, 62 (2015): 215–244

Idem. Early Greek Alchemy. Patronage and Innovation in Late Antiquity. Berkeley, CA: California Classical Studies, 2019

Idem. ‘Was Zosimus of Panopolis Christian?’ ARYS. Antigüedad: Religiones y Sociedades, 20 (2022): 135–170

(special issue: Chemical Arts and Religion in Antiquity, edited by N. Borrelli, M. Martelli)

M. Escolano-Poveda, ‘Zosimos Aigyptiakos: Identifying the Imagery of the ‘Visions’ and Locating Zosimos of Panopolis in His Egyptian Context.’ ARYS. Antigüedad: Religiones y Sociedades, 20 (2022): 77–134

(special issue: Chemical Arts and Religion in Antiquity, edited by N. Borrelli, M. Martelli):

A.-J. Festugière, La révélation d’Hermès Trismégiste, Vol. 1: L’astrologie et les sciences occultes. Paris: Gabalda, 19502, pp. 217–282

G. Fowden. The Egyptian Hermes. A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986, pp. 120–126

K. A. Fraser. ‘Zosimos of Panopolis and the Book of Enoch: Alchemy as Forbidden Knowledge.’ Aries. Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism, 4 (2004): 125–147

Idem. ‘Baptised in Gnosis: The spiritual alchemy of Zosimos of Panopolis’. Dionysus, 25 (2007): 33–54

A. Giumlia-Mair. ‘Zosimos the Alchemist: Manuscript 6.29, Cambridge, metallurgical interpretation.’ In: A. Giumlia-Mair (ed.), XV Congresso Internazionale sui Bronzi Antichi, Produzione e Tecnologia. Montagnac: Éditions Monique Mergoil, 2002, pp. 317–323

Sh. Grimes. Becoming Gold. Zosimos of Panopolis and the Alchemical Arts in Roman Egypt. Auckland: Rubedo Press, 2018

S. Knipe. ‘Sacrifice and self-transformation in the alchemical writings of Zosimus of Panopolis.’ In: Ch. Kelly, R. Flower, M. S. Williams (eds), Unclassical Traditions. Vol. 2: Perspectives from East and West in Late Antiquity. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 59–69

J. Letrouit. ‘Chronologie des alchimistes grecs.’ In: D. Kahn, S. Matton (eds.), Alchimie. Art, histoire et mythes. Paris – Milano: S.É.H.A/Arché, 1995, pp. 9–93

J. Lindsay. The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt. London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1970, pp. 323–342

M. Michèle. ‘Zosimos of Panopolis.’ In: N. Koertge (ed.), New Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008, pp. 405–408

B. Hallum. ‘Zosimus Arabus. The Reception of Zosimos of Panopolis in the Arabic/Islamic World.’ Ph.D. diss.: Warburg Institute, 2008.

Idem. ‘The Tome of Images: An Arabic Compilation of Texts by Zosimos of Panopolis and a Source for the Turba Philosophorum.’ Ambix, 56 (2009): 76–88

W. J. Hanegraaff. Hermetic Spirituality and the Historical Imagination: Altered States of Knowledge in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022, pp. 77–100

E. C. D. Hunter. ‘Beautiful Black Bronzes: Zosimos’ Treatises in Cam. Mm. 6.29.’ In: A. Giumlia-Mair (ed.), XV Congresso Internazionale sui Bronzi Antichi, Produzione e Tecnologia. Montagnac: Éditions Monique Mergoil, 2002, pp. 665–660.

M. Martelli. ‘L’alchimie en syriaque et l’oeuvre de Zosime.’ In: É. Villey (ed.), Les sciences en Syriaque. Paris: Geuthner, 2014, pp. 191–214

Idem. ‘The Alchemical Art of Dyeing: The Fourfold Division of Alchemy and the Enochian Tradition.’ In: S. Dupré (ed.), Laboratories of Art. Alchemy and Art Technology from Antiquity to the 18th Century. New York: Springer, 2014, pp. 1–22

Idem. ‘Alchemy, Medicine and Religion: Zosimus of Panopolis and the Egyptian Priests.’ Religion in the Roman Empire, 3 (2017): 202–220

L. Principe. The Secrets of Alchemy. Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 2013, pp. 15–24

A. Rinotas. 2021. ‘Spiritual and Material Conversion in the Alchemical Work of Zosimus of Panopolis.’ Religions, 12 (2021): 1–13

D. Stolzenberg. ‘Unpropitious Tinctures. Alchemy, Astrology and Gnosis According to Zosimos of Panopolis.’ Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences, 142 (1999): 3–31.

C. Viano. ‘Une substance, deux natures: les alchimistes grecs et le Principe de la transmutation’. Chôra: Revue d’études anciennes et médiévales, 13 (2015): 309–325 (special issue: Dualismes. Doctrines Religieuses et Traditions Philosophiques, edited by F. Jourdan, A. Vasiliu)

Idem. ‘Les alchimistes gréco-alexandrins et le Timée de Platon.’ In: C. Viano (ed.), L’alchimie et ses racines philosophiques. La tradition grecque et la tradition arabe. Paris: Vrin, 2005, pp. 91–111


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