Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Philosophy - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Vincenzo Carlotta

Vincenzo CarlottaBetween Alchemy and Philosophy: A Study of Stephanus of Alexandria’s Practical Ontology

As science of substantial transformation, Greco-Egyptian alchemy presents since its beginning a dense theorization of its procedures: practical and theoretical themes that have progressively determined its purposes and developments. The basis of this theorization of alchemical knowledge lays on the Greek philosophical speculation on being, change, matter, and form, and the relevance of this physical and metaphysical doctrinal framework is particularly evident in authors like Olympiodorus and Stephanus of Alexandria. In fact, their reflections on substantial transformations are deeply bound to Alexandrian Neoplatonism, characterized by its structural connection to Aristotle’s theories: a suitable doctrinal context on which alchemy could be grounded.

My research aims at studying the theoretical merging between philosophical and scientific doctrines in (Pseudo-, ?) Stephanus of Alexandria’s alchemical works, delineating the overall scheme through which the alchemical practical procedures are grounded on the Neoplatonic physical and metaphysical speculation. In particular, I will focus on the discussion on the process of alchemical transmutation and the philosophical theories of corporeal transformations developed in Athens and Alexandria on the basis of Plato’s and Aristotle’s thematizations of being and substance. This feature is structurally bound to the problem of first matter and cosmogony, and the discussion on corporeal hylomorphism and the possibilities of a modification of substantial forms.


Vincenzo Carlotta was born in Palermo, Italy. He received a BA degree in Classics from the University of Siena in 2012. Then, he obtained an MA degree in Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the University of Pavia in 2016. His MA thesis was focused on the Greek alchemical works falsely attributed to Cleopatra and it was completed under the supervision of Elisa Romano (University of Pavia) and Cristina Viano (CNRS – Centre Léon Robin, Paris). Among other things he attended a Summer School in Greek Palaeography and Codicology at the University of Uppsala in 2014; on March 2015 he organized an international conference held at the University of Pavia on technical and scientific forms of knowledge during Antiquity and Late Antiquity.

Conferences, papers, education

Since 10/2016: PhD Candidate in History of Ancient Science within the Research Training Group “Philosophy, Science, and the Sciences” at the Humboldt University of Berlin; supervisor: Prof. Dr. Philip Van der Eijk.

Since 10/2016: PhD Scholarship from the RTG “Philosophy, Science, and the Sciences” (Graduiertenkolleg 1939/1), sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

11/2016: Participation in the 7th SOFIME International Conference with a paper entitled «La relazione tra corpo e anima nella tradizione alchemica greco-egiziana e bizantina: alcune considerazioni sul ruolo attribuito allo ‘spirito.’» Barcelona, 14-15-16 November 2016.

10/2016: Participation in the 7th SHAC Postgraduate Workshop with a paper entitled «Chromatic References in the Making of the Transmuting Agent as Presented in the Dialogue of the Philosophers and Cleopatra.» Utrecht, 26 October 2016.

02/2016: MA in Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Pavia.

03/2015: Organization of the International Conference Days on «τέχναι e artes. Giornate di studio internazionali sui saperi tecnico scientifici antichi e tardo-antichi», supported by the Department of Humanities of the University of Pavia. Pavia, 30-31 March 2015.

10/2014: Diploma from the Summer Course “Greek Palaeography and Codicology: To Read and Study the Ancient Codex” at the University of Uppsala.

07/2012: BA in Humanities curriculum Classics at the University of Siena.