I have just finished reading Jack Lindsay's "The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt" (Barnes & Noble, 1970). This book is very illuminating about the early stages of Alchemy's development, including its relation with Greek philosophy, the mystery-cults, and Persian, Hebrew, and Egyptian magic, and the craft-lore of metallurgy, dyeing, fermenting, and the making of perfumes, cosmetics and drugs. It draws on a wide range of ancient sources, though there are some odd omissions, notably Morienus.
This book includes extensive quotations from the Discourse or Dialogue of the early Egyptian woman alchemist Kleopatra. Her passionate, poetic vision of alchemic transformation centers on the metaphor of gestation in the womb. There is also a chapter on Maria the Jewess, an inveterate experimenter who seems to have invented or improved upon most of the basic apparatus of practical alchemy. It is interesting to see how central were women in the early development of alchemy, and I am particularly interested in Kleopatra's vision for its feminine perspective and its enthusiasm. If anyone is able to refer me to other studies or sources on the work of Kleopatra, I would be very grateful.
Here is a quote from Kleopatra:
Then Kleopatra said to the Philosophers, "Look at the nature of plants, what they come from. Some come down from the mountains and grow out of the earth, and some grow up from the valleys and some come from the plains. But look how they develop. For it is at certain seasons of the year you must gather them; and you take them from the islands of the sea and from the most lofty place. And look at the air that ministers to them, and the nourishment circling round them, so that they may not perish or die. Look at the divine water that gives them drink, and the air that governs them after they have been given a body in a single being."
Ostanes and those with him answered Kleopatra. "In you is hidden a strange and terrible mystery. Enlighten us, throwing your light on the elements. Tell us how the highest descends to the lowest, and how the lowest rises to the highest, and is united with it, and what is the element that accomplishes these things. And tell us how the blessed waters visit the corpses lying in Hades fettered and afflicted in darkness, and how the Medicine of Life reaches them and rouses them as if woken by their possessors from sleep; and how the new waters, both brought forth on the bier and coming after the light penetrates them at the beginning of their prostration and how the cloud supporting the waters rises from the sea."
And the Philosophers, pondering what had been revealed to them, rejoiced.
Kleopatra said to them, "The waters, when they come, awake the bodies and the spirits that are imprisoned and weak. For they again undergo oppression and are enclosed in Hades, and yet in a little while they grow and rise up and put on various glorious colours like the flowers in the spring and the spring itself rejoices and is glad at the beauty they wear.
"For I tell this to you who are wise. When you take plants, elements, and stones from their places, they appear to you to be mature. But they are not mature till the fire has tested them. When they are clad in the glory from the fire and the shining colour of it, then rather will appear their hidden glory, their sought-for beauty, being transformed to the divine state of fusion. For they are nourished in the fire and the embryo grows little by little nourished in its mother's womb; and when the appointed month comes near is not held back from coming out. Such is the procedure of this worthy art. The waves and surges one after another in Hades wound them in the tomb where they lie. When the tomb is opened, they come out from Hades as the babe from the womb."