Tuesday, April 4, 2017

C for Cleopatra the Alchemist: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Greek-Egyptian Alchemist, Author, and Philosopher. Cleopatra the Alchemist lived in the 3rd Century in Alexandria, Egypt. Cleopatra was not her real name but a pseudonym, author name. Her real name is unknown and should not be confused with the famous Queen Cleopatra of 1st Century BC.

Cleopatra was one of alchemy’s founding scientists in the 3rd Century, possibly the 4th Century. Associated with the school of alchemy it's said, in Alexandria one would assume, Cleopatra took her work seriously as an alchemist, using apparatus for distillation and sublimation, and weights and measures in her experiments.

She is credited (as is Mary the Jewess) with inventing the Alembic, an early analytical tool used in chemistry - basically two vessels connected by a tube for distilling chemicals. 

Alembic used by Zosimos of Panopolis

Cleopatra was one of four female alchemists to supposedly make the "Philosopher’s stone." The stone was a legendary alchemical substance capable of turning base metals such as mercury into gold (i.e., chrysopoeia in Greek). Cleopatra is known for her writing of Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, a single page document written on papyrus showing symbols and drawings with captions, all related to gold-making.

Chrysopoeia, the artificial production of gold, was the common goal sought by alchemists. In literature Chrysopoeia played out in the famous fairy tale Rumpelstilskin, whose antagonist spins straw into gold. Gold can in fact be produced artificially, it turns out, in nuclear reactors, but the production cost far outweighs the market price of gold. 

Illustrations of pseudo-Cleopatra's Chrysopoeia (Aurifaction, or Gold-making), Codex Marcianus

Alchemy was a pseudo-science for the most part, but according to Google, it was the “medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter.” Repeated attempts were made “to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir,” or as Merriam-Webster describes, “a universal cure for disease . . . and means of indefinitely prolonging life.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra_the_Alchemist; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alchemy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosopher%27s_stone; http://www.aaroncheak.com/circumambulating/

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing


  1. Hi Sharon - I've always loved the concept of alchemy and what it brings to story telling - though I'd never heard of Cleopatra the Alchemist - what a find. Alexandria was rich for learning. I'd forgotten the Rumplestiltskin folk tale ... glad you reminded me - great C ... cheers Hilary


  2. Loved this post! Alchemy fancinates me. It's like a form of magic :) I'm going to pretend she really did manage to create gold and the philosphers stone!

    Believe In Fairy Stories: Theme - Folklore & Fairy Tales

    1. @Hilary. Hi Hilary. I had to read up on the subject of alchemy. Loved the connection with Rumpelstiltskin. A TV series called "Once Upon a Time" has had a lot of fun playing with this ancient character. Take care!

      @Jodie. This whole alchemy thing was a learning curve for me, and the deal with the philosopher's stone really fires up the imagination. A very fascinating subject indeed!

  3. Never knew of this woman or that she might be one of the four (all women!) creators of the Phylosopher's Stone.
    Fascinating read.

    The Old Shelter - 1940s Film Noir

  4. Yay for women of science! She sounds like a highly intelligent woman with an enquiring mind.
    Tasha's Thinkings - Shapeshifters and Werewolves

  5. Love your theme. I look forward to seeing who else you'll feature.
    Alphabet of Printmakers

    1. @Sarah. They must have dreamed and thought about The Philosopher's Stone all the time.

      @Natasha. Yes, a big hurrah! There were more women than I realized. Thanks!

      @Anne. Thank you. Nice to meet you :)

  6. Wow, now I want to create a Rumpelstiltskin-retelling with a female alchemist... :D

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

  7. Gold can be made in a nuclear reactor?! What an excellent piece of trivia.

    C is for Church Committee: Intelligence Abuses by the CIA

  8. Alchemy is such a fascinating concept. I can see how it would be the forerunner of chemistry. I never heard of this Cleopatra. I'll be interested to learn about more of these women scientists. Good theme!

    1. @Tarkabarka. Ooh....I'll look forward to that. Let me know if you do!

      @Tamara. I know, isn't that cool? I never knew this either!

      @Elizabeth. I wish I had room to include all four ladies, but the alphabet was a challenge!

  9. What an interesting post - I'm so glad to have found my way here and look forward to the rest of your challenge posts. Alchemy is a fascinating topic, and it's lovely to have females given credit for their work.

  10. What a great idea for a theme. It's interesting how there is the word Regina under Cleopatra's name isn't it which means Queen doesn't it...I'm very confused.

  11. I'm glad you said she has no relation to the vixen Queen otherwise I would have made that mistake. I love that she was a big part in alchemy during this time. I love how you connected it to the popular Grimm Fairy tale also

    1. @Deborah. I'm glad you found your way here too. Welcome!

      @Alex. Nice to meet you, Alex :) Hmm....just noticed that. In research I found a lot of reference to Queen Cleopatra in 1st century, and sometimes the two Cleopatras overlapped. I'll remove the logo. Thanks for pointing that out!

      @Birgit. I love the Rumpelstiltskin connection too and one blogger is even thinking of story to write.

  12. Visiting from A to Z. I enjoyed your post. I think people wish sometimes for an easy solution and chemistry is mysterious, sometimes you produce totally new compounds ... it would have taken a while to figure out elements and work out that gold was an element.

    C is for caught in Caen during the Reign of Terror


    Anne Young

    Anne's family history

  13. I was wondering if the later queen was named for her... Btw, have you written about the "Sail" component of your name? It's a wonderful sport.

  14. Fascinating post! I learned new things thanks to what you wrote about Cleopatra and Chrysopoeia (which I had never heard of until today).

  15. All new to me. So much to learn.

  16. @Anne. Certainly. I think it was a practiced for centuries...lots written on alchemy lore and history.

    @Sage. ~Sigh~ My sailing days may have passed. Getting ready to sell our "Duet." But still boating...a small speed boat and kayaks still.

    @Harvest moon. Chrysopoeia is an interesting word. Another post maybe...

    @Denise. Yes, and there's always more, huh. I could do this forever :)

  17. That first drawing looks like a sketch I would have produced in my chemistry textbook at school I had' heard of this Cleopatra either. You have a magnificent theme running here.

  18. I've heard of Maria the Jewess, not of Cleopatra. Nice! I remember reading somewhere that in some ways, women are responsible for the equipment of the chemistry lab, because what is cooking but chemistry?

    1. @Bob. Ha-ha. Well, at least the sketch makes sense. Thanks, Bob.

      @Janet. Thank you!

      @Sue. Interesting about the equipment and the link to cooking. So true!

  19. Cool theme! There must have been heaps of women called Cleopatra, for real and as a pseudonym - always a fashion to take the name of the reining monarch.

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading, thanks!
    From Madly-in-Verse
    Theme : Arabiana

  20. Thanks for stopping by - your theme is interesting, will be stopping in from time to time.

    C: Carolinas & Catskills
    DB McNicol, author & traveler
    Theme: Oh, the places we will go!

  21. Very interesting to read about another Cleopatra (I'd only heard of the Queen until now).
    Have fun :)
    Ros from Fangirl Stitches

    1. @Nilanjana. How true. The name Cleopatra would have been extremely popular.

      @Donna. Nice of you to visit. Thanks, Donna!

      @Roslyn. Glad you enjoyed. Thanks. Love your cross stitch figures!

  22. Sharon, has anyone tried her Chrysopoiea details to see what she did do and how it worked? She apparently thought it worth writing about so others could learn from her work. Fascinating. Loving your posts. I'm not sure my comments on the first two recorded so I'm going to comment as myself this time and hope it makes it to your site.

    Angelica French

    1. Hello Angela! I'm glad you returned. I am unable to reach your blog. There is something wrong with your link. As for chrysopoeia, there is lots more to read! This is only a brief sketch. Meanwhile, I hope you fix the link. I can reach the google+ main screen but it stops there. Check your settings!

  23. Alchemy is of special interest to me in psychological terms and the search for the philosopher's stone. The core we each have within but like the archeologists, we have to mine and dig deep ..While the earlier alchemists may have hoped to have turned lead into gold, the whole process and the experimentation led to deep philosophical thinkings. It's such a fascinating field - the Rosarium Philosophorum, a key alchemical treatise among many others. Thank you Sharon!!!

    1. Thank you, Susan. As I mentioned above, this is a brief sketch on alchemy, a subject I honestly know very little about. I hope you'll consider writing on the subject since it's of special interest to you. That would be fascinating to read!

  24. I'm thinking of Cleopatra the Queen...but they're obviously two different people.


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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.