Not all that Glitters is Gold: A short history of alchemy


Have you ever wondered who the alchemists were and what they were trying to achieve? Were they a bunch of lunatics who wasted their lives and wealth vainly searching for the Philosopher’s Stone? Or custodians of occult knowledge, able to turn iron into gold? This course will provide an overview of the history of alchemy from antiquity to the modern period.

Target audience:
This course is for anyone interested in the history of alchemy, who would like to learn facts that results from historical research in an entertaining and informative way.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • learnt facts, rather than fiction, about alchemy and specific alchemists
  • a greater understanding of know how alchemy relates to chemistry
  • appreciated the cultural and scientific importance of the alchemical tradition

Course outline:
The course includes a lecture presentation with time for questions and discussion. Topics will include:

1. Invisible ink and tinted glass: workshop practices in Hellenistic Egypt
2. Alchemy in the Islamic world: strong foundations
3. Alchemy’s debut in the Latin West: what shall we call you?
4. In the shadow of the Black Death: the friars and the search for the elixir
5. Gold fever and the Philosopher’s Stone
6. Paracelsus and the rise of chemistry
7. Alchemy at the court of aristocrats
8. From alchemy to chemistry

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Dóra Bobory is a historian with a Ph.D. from the Central European University (Budapest). She also studied Ancient Greek and Latin, and has an MA in Italian and Medieval Studies. She had research fellowships in Hungary, Italy, Germany, and the US, settling a few years ago in New Zealand with her family. The focus of her current research is early modern alchemy, on which she has published extensively.

Relevant links:
School of History, Philosophy, Political Studies and International Relations

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.