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Albert de Rochas: From ‘La Science Dans l’Antiquité’ – Zosimos of Panopolis Describes A Distillation Apparatus

Fayum encalistic wax painting on wood

of a middle aged man from the first Half of the 2nd century C.E.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA an excerpt from Albert de Rochas’ 1884 ‘La Science dans l’Antiquité, les origines de la Science’, published by Georges Masson in Paris. From page 95.


‘Zosimos of Panopolis, who was living in Alexandria during the third century C. E., left upon the sacred art a few treatises, of which some are in manuscript at the French National Library. Mister Hoefer published a certain amount of them which are for the commoner hard to understand. But, there is one, most curious, which gives the description and drawings of some apparatus. Zosimos may have seen some of these models in an ancient temple of Memphis.

3rd century C.E. distillation apparatus, from ‘La Science dans l’Antiquité, les origines de la Science’, G. Masson, Paris, 1884. Page 93.

Drawing 42, that I reproduce from Mister Hoefer’s publication, shows, most obviously, that distillation was known to the ancient Egyptians. It was followed by these instructions:

Make three brass tubes (f) of which the walls are thick enough and of sixteen cubits long. Openings or ‘tongues’ are made in the inferior part of the flask (d) must exactly fit to these tubes, themselves end up with other smaller flasks (e). A thick tube (c) makes the matrass (b) communicate with the bigger glass flask (d), and the apparatus holds, a curious thing, the spirit (pneuma,  πνευμα ) on top. After having adapted the tubes, all of their joints are coated with lut ( in technology, coating with lut, clay-based paste, ovens or objects that are in contact with fire), A great care must be given that the bigger glass flask, placed above the matrass, is thick enough so that heat, bringing water above, doesn’t break it.

The apparatus was then placed over a furnace, which was called ‘ta phota, the lights, τα φωτα’. The matrass (b) is called ‘η λωπας, i lopas’; it was usually made with a clay-based paste. The bigger flask (d) and the smaller ones (e) were always made of glass; the tubes (σωληνες, solines) seems to have been made either with earth or brass.

In the ‘Philosophumena’, the following indication is given (that could only be applied to alcohol):

There is a sea foam, that when it is cooked in an earth pot with sweet ingredients, displays the following property: when it boils and a lit lamp is brought close, it ignites and burns; but this composition, if spilled over the head does not burn. If, while it is boiling, one pours some resin, it will burn in a much better way. It would be then advisable to also add some sulfur.”

The ‘Philosophumena’ are attributed to Hippolyte of Rome, or most probably to Origen, who lived in Alexandria during the third century. They have never have been translated into French.’ (that is in 1884)

(Note: We will try to locate the above quote in the coming days, so to be able to give the proper reference. We highly recommend for the quality of their endevour the latest French translation, done in 2019, by Hans van Kasteel for Beya Editions and the latest English translation by  David Litwa done for the SBL Press in 2016. We will share from them in January 2023, as there are many hidden gems waiting to be discovered…)


Original French

Zosimos’ Original Greek

with French Translation

(Note: Zosimos himself here quotes ‘Mary the Copt’. In alchemical literature, ‘quotes quoting other quotes’ creates a feeling of connectiveness, like a lineage of practitioners connected through an Ur standard operative text, ceaselessly updating and re-creating itself. We will also share from Zosimos’ ‘Mémoires Authentiques’ in January 2023)

From the annex of ‘Les Alchimistes Grecs, Zosime de Panopolis’-‘Mémoires Authentiques’. Les Belles Lettres, Paris-2002.


Albert de Rochas: From ‘La Science Dans l’Antiquité’ – Zosimos of Panopolis Describes A Distillation Apparatus

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