Zosimos of Panopolis

Here’s my podcast on him:

Zosimos of Panopolis was an Egyptian or Greek alchemist and Gnostic mystic again from around 300 AD.

You could argue he’s the first real alchemist writer we can go to today. He mainly mentions older, more ancient alchemists in his writings, but his writings are the oldest ones to survive to today.

He was born in Panopolis, present day Akhmim in the south of Egypt

He wrote the oldest known books on alchemy, of which quotations in the Greek language and translations into Syriac or Arabic are known.

Sometimes he’s written as “Thosimos”, “Dosimos” and “Rimos”. It’s pretty normal for people’s name to change in different writings across cultures. Al-Ghazali became Algazel in western Europe.. not to mention just think of all the latinizations of names like Sedziwoj into Sendivogius, or Jisinksky into Jesenius, etc.

Anyway. Zosimos provided one of the first definitions of alchemy as the study of “the composition of waters, movement, growth, embodying and disembodying, drawing the spirits from bodies and bonding the spirits within bodies.” (from Mendeleyev’s Dream—the Quest for the Elements. )

Hermetic and Gnostic influence: According to the Book of Enoch and the Apocryphon of John:

The fallen angels taught the art of metallurgy to the women they married.

….if you say ancient aliens, I will slap you.

The external processes of metallic transmutation—the transformations of lead and copper into silver and gold—had always to mirror an inner process of purification and redemption.

Which has hermeticism all over it. If you’re not right with the world, the process can’t be either. It’s a reflection. Divine water, or sulfurous water

was used by Greek alchemists (there’s a word that means both in greek)

Zosimos saw it like this:, the alchemical vessel the baptismal font, and the tincturing vapors of mercury and sulphur were purifying waters of baptism, which perfected and redeemed the Gnostic initiate.

also Hermetic image of the krater or mixing bowl, a symbol of the divine mind in which the Hermetic initiate was “baptized” and purified in the course of a visionary ascent through the heavens and into the transcendent realms.

Visions Zosimos had these dreams about alchemy. Heavily symbolic and weird.

All right. So Zosimos meets Ion, the founder of the Sabian religion. Ion fights Zosimos with a sword, impales him, disembowels him, pulls the skin off of his head, and burns the pieces of his body on an altar so they are transmutated from body to spirit.. that’s one way of doing alchemy…

Then Ion cries blood and horribly melts into “the opposite of himself, into a mutilated anthroparion” …Indiana Jones meets True Blood.

Then Zosimos wakes up and ponders this and goes back to sleep.

Back at the alter, someone is being boiled alive. And the boiled guy says “ “The sight that you see is the entrance, and the exit, and the transformation … Those who seek to obtain the art (or moral perfection) enter here, and become spirits by escaping from the body”

He keeps waking up during all this and ponders what they mean. Maybe.. human distillation, like water. Transmutation of the body and soul etc.

And goes back to sleep and dreams of a “place of punishments” where all who enter immediately burst into flames and submit themselves to an “unendurable torment.”

Alchemist Symbolism One thing that strikes me when reading medieval alchemist’s documents are the utterly bizarre pictures and symbolism. Zosimos mentions tons of these and they became stables in alchemist’s circles:

the snake eating itself. Snake in a circle eating its tail. This symbolized the unity of everything (think back to our neo-platonism podcast, that’s no coincidence)

he mentions 7 a lot. At one point 15 stairs is “7 stairs up, the 8th is the sphere of fixed stars (the divine part of the cosmos) and 7 stairs back down) …7 stairs being the planets and sun/moon deal. But by now you know that, if -unlike pete- you’ve been paying attention on this podcast.

Mirrors: rather than to see a reflection of the material self, contemplate the divine self (neo-platonism) ..but he meant it more in a gnostic sense of the holy spirit

Letters of the (greek) alphabet had symbolic meaning.. that I’m not going to get into because wow. Well, okay.. let me give you an example: “Round Omega is the bipartite letter, the one that in terms of material language belongs to the seventh planetary zone, that of Kronos. For in terms of the immaterial it is something else altogether, something inexplicable, which only Nikotheos the hidden knows. In material terms Omega is what he calls Ocean the birth and seed of all gods.” (Jackson’s translation, Zosimos of Panopolis On the Letter Omega, 29.)

Jewish Metallurgy Zosimus furthermore is the first known alchemist to write about Jewish metallurgical techniques, and he incorporates Jewish religious ideas into his writings. Julius Ruska proposed that Zosimus may have been Jewish, but scholars generally agree that there is not enough evidence to support this claim. (See Raphael Patai, The Jewish Alchemists, 56.)

..it is clear he had respect for j.m., distillation and mysticism and tried to show it being in agreement with egyptian thought.

Natural vs unnatural alchemy astrology plays a role in alchemy (as it usually does) in Zosimos’ case it’s to do with “timely tinctures” i.e. doing certain things at certain times in sync with the moon, or zodiac etc.

If this sounds familiar it is. It goes way back:

For example Mesopotamian glass-making recipes dating from 1300–1100 BCE contain instructions for the astrological timing of various procedures. We seem to bring this up in almost every episode, and I guess an episode on astrology is due soon.

But for those interested in the detail here: Zosimos believed that demons only had knowledge of a very specific part of the cosmos (in which they lived) but the creator had knowledge of the whole. So by timing your works, so it doesn’t coincide with the demons the work can be greater. Summary in general, what interested me about Zosimos is his interesting take on alchemy. It was straight metallurgy, but with the addition of “contemplating nature” as you’re smelting. So it had a spiritual component to it. By following your basic neoplatonic/hermetic/gnostic concepts of meditation and contemplation of the divine, he believed you can get a better result. Bibliography: http://www.world-news-research.com/Zosimus2.html

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One thought on “Zosimos of Panopolis

  1. Tyler Donning

    I have been looking for a connection between Zosimos of Panopolis and alchemy focusing on the philosophers stone (immortality). Do you have any knowledge on his connection with that side of alchemy or maybe “the search” for immortality in the same time period as Zosimos from other alchemist. Thank you for any information that you pass along. Great podcast I will definitely be listening more.


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