May 7, 2013
Guiding the Elect: A Textual History of Ottoman Alchemy in the Eighteenth Century
Chemical Heritage Foundation, Brown Bag Lecture | Visit site »
Location: Chemical Heritage Foundation
The physician and whirling dervish ‘Omer Shifa’i of Bursa (d. 1742) is best known today as one of the key figures in the popularization of Paracelsian medicine among learned Ottomans. His most widely circulating work in the 18th century, however, was the Murshidu’l-mukhtar fi ‘ilm al-asrar (Guide of the Elect for the Science of Secrets), a lengthy and at times inscrutable book on alchemy. Despite its fame the Murshidu’l mukhtar remained as a textual oddity in the 18th century: constituting a clear departure from the conventions of earlier Ottoman alchemical literature both in terms of its content and language, ‘Omer Shifa’i’s magnum opus was read by many but imitated by none. The talk serves as a short introduction to alchemy in its Ottoman context and the ways in which its practitioners engaged with Western sources of knowledge in the 18th century, primarily through a discussion of the Murshidu’l mukhtar and several other important alchemical books and treatises that were authored in the same period.
Tuna Artun is assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His Ph.D. dissertation, “Hearts of Gold and Silver: The Production of Alchemical Knowledge in the Early Modern Ottoman World” (Princeton University, 2013), studied the transmission and vernacularization of Arabic alchemy by Turkophone Ottomans in the long 17th century. In addition to his continuing manuscript research on late medieval and early modern alchemical poems, Artun’s current research focuses on the practice of iatrochemistry in the world of Islam.