The way of obtaining the Grand Elixir : an edition of the ‘Tamyrtone’ text in BL Harley 1747

The way of obtaining the Grand Elixir : an edition of the ‘Tamyrtone’ text in BL Harley 1747

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The way of obtaining the Grand Elixir : an edition of the ‘Tamyrtone’ text in BL Harley 1747

By Beata Wojtalik

Master’s Thesis, University of Stavanger, 2010

Abstract: This thesis consists of an edition of an alchemical text found in the fifteenth-century manuscript BL Harley 1747. The text is catalogued as ‘The way of obtaining the grand Elixir’ and is attributed to ‘Tamyrtone’; it is, however, not obvious from the text whether the name Tamyrtone, which is prefixed to the text, is meant to refer to an author or an addressee.

The text has not been edited before. The manuscript has been dated to the fifteenth century, a period when the production of texts in the vernacular was expanding in the whole of Latin Europe. The increase of literacy was a driving force to what has later come to be known as the process of vernacularization. The late fifteenth century, bridging the late medieval and early modern periods, witnessed an ever growing interest in the translation of scientific writings into the vernacular. As such texts had earlier been available only in Latin, new terminology and writing conventions were now developed in the vernacular. This process may best be seen in texts on medicine. However, many other scientific writings, in subjects such as alchemy, astrology, astronomy, geometry, chiromancy etc., appeared in great numbers. Alchemical texts, alongside writings on medicine, seem to be the most numerous. However, while medical writings have received a great deal of attention of linguists in recent years, alchemical texts are still very little studied.

The present thesis provides a diplomatic edition of the text, with notes, glossary and translation. In addition, the thesis aims to place the text into its historical, textual and linguistic context. Firstly, it considers the text both as part of the alchemical tradition in general and as part of the vernacular text production in late medieval England in particular. The text is also be considered from the point of view of text type, a question that is made challenging by the complex conventions of alchemical texts. An attempt is made to address the question of authorship, and to shed some light on the question whether the text might have been written by or for Tamyrtone. Finally, a dialectal analysis situates the text in its geographical and linguistic context in fifteenth-century England.

The study of the text makes up Part I of this thesis, which consists of seven chapters. The second chapter provides a description of the manuscript context and the physical characteristics of the text, as well as a summary of its content. Chapter 3 examines the alchemical tradition, starting from the roots of alchemy in Egypt and going through the Greek, Chinese and Arabic fundaments of the alchemical lore, concluding with a discussion of the alchemical practices of medieval Europe. This chapter also provides a description of the alchemical elements and the use of mystical language in alchemical texts. Chapter 4 looks at the alchemical process as described in the ‘Tamyrtone’ text, and at the vessels used in the process of transmutation. Chapter 5 discusses the context of late medieval English text production, the text type and the authorship question, and Chapter 6 provides a brief analysis of the dialect. Finally, in Chapter 7, an attempt is made to bring together the different strands of study and make some concluding remarks on the vernacular text production in Late Medieval English based on the ‘Tamyrtone’ text.

Part II of the thesis is an edition of The way of obtaining the Grand Elixir, followed by explanatory notes and a glossary. The transcription made for this edition will be included in the Middle English Grammar Corpus (version 2010.1. and later; cf Stenroos et al. 2008-). A translation of the text is provided as an Appendix.

Top Image: British Library MS Sloane 795 f. 54


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