Letter | Published:

The Kerotakis Apparatus

Nature volume 159, page 784 (07 June 1947) | Download Citation



SOME interest has been taken in the summary of my Royal Institution lectures1, and Dr. E. C. Stathis, of the University of Athens, has directed attention to a paper2 by Prof. K. Zenghelis, of that University, on the kerotakis apparatus. Hoefer3, who reproduced a diagram of it from a Paris manuscript4, which5 is copied from the old Venice manuscript6, called it a 'bain-Marie à kérotakis', explaining that it was not a water bath (as this name would suggest) but a sand- or ash-bath. The same name is used by Berthelot7, who, however, gives a more adequate description of the apparatus, and in particular indicates that the name comes from that of the triangular palette used by painters in encaustic for keeping liquid the wax pigments. He gives several pictures of the apparatus, which make it clear that there were several forms, probably destined for different uses. The one under consideration is that which I described8 in 1929 as a small charcoal brazier, surmounted by a piece of apparatus the use of which is not immediately obvious, and in my lecture I stated that it was used for sublimation. The invention of this apparatus is attributed9 to the early chemist Maria the Jewess (first century A.D.).

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  1. 1.

    Nature, 159, 81 (1947).

  2. 2.

    5, 127 (1930); I have used a reprint kindly sent by Dr. Stathis.

  3. 3.

    "Histoire de la Chimie", 1, 284 (Paris, 1866).

  4. 4.

    BN 2249 grec.

  5. 5.

    , "Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs", 1, 129 (Paris, 1887–88).

  6. 6.

    Marcianus, 299, xii cent.

  7. 7.

    Op. cit., 148.

  8. 8.

    "Everyday Chemistry", Fig. 65D, 68 (London, 1929); from BN 2325 grec, f. 84 (xiii cent.).

  9. 9.

    , op. cit., 2, 238; Zosimos quoting Agathodaimon.

  10. 10.

    This name was also used in the manuscripts for a flask or phial, the latter being so labelled in the drawings.

  11. 11.

    Marcianus 299, f. 196 = Berthelot, op. cit., 1, 148, Fig. 24; already in Hoefer, op. cit., from Paris 2249, f.102v (not "fol. 2 verso", as he says).

  12. 12.

    For example, I.G. Farben-Ind., French Pat. 922308 (1937); see , Proc. Inst. Mech. Eng., 152, 226 (1945).

  13. 13.

    BN 2249, f.103.

  14. 14.

    , op. cit., 2, 84; for a collection of statements of Hermes in the chemical manuscripts, see , "La Révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste", 1, 240f. (Paris, 1944).

  15. 15.

    , "Die des Bolos Demokritos und der Magier Anaxilaos aus Larissa", Abhl. Preuss. Akad. Wiss., phil.-hist. Kl., 1921, No. iv; , op. cit., p. 197, thinks the correct name is Bolos the Demokritan, and that he may be the same as Demokritos the alchemist; I think the latter is doubtful.

  16. 16.

    The relation to the conjuring tricks described by Hippolytos and the Jewish Gnostic, Markos, will also be discussed. Most of the professional magicians of the period seem to have been Jews.

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