Alchemy is an ancient art. It was commonly practiced in the Middle ages as a means to discover a substance that could base metals into gold or silver, and also to find a way to prolong human life. Even though its original purpose is now thought to be so naive by modern standards, alchemy certainly is recognized as the predecessor to modern chemistry.
The ancient practice of alchemy dates back to Egypt. It was also practiced in Alexandria and a school of alchemy was developing in China. The early Greek philosophers wrote the first chemical theories. In the fifth century BC. they believed that all things were composed of air, earth, fire and water. This belief greatly influenced alchemy.
Roman emperors seemed to have mixed feelings about the practice. Caligula is alleged to have ordered experiments to be performed to produce gold from orpiment, a sulfide of arsenic.
The fundamental basis on which alchemy rests is Aristotle's doctrine that all things tend to strive toward perfection. This belief resulted in the theory that gold found deep inside the earth had naturally been produced from less perfect metals. The alchemist's hope was to discover the secret of this natural process and duplicate it. Original attempts for achieving such a feat were both empirical and practical, but toward the fourth century astrological and magical influences were becoming more dominant.
In the thirteenth century the practice of alchemy took on almost a religious fervor. The skilled alchemist not only went through a rigorous apprenticeship but also a solemn ceremony upon the completion of his training. Astrology, mysticism, medicine, esoteric doctrines of the Near East, Pythagoreanism, and orphism were all eventually embodied in alchemy. By their strict practices and their searches for the Philosopher's Stone the true alchemists tried to refresh and restore the earth.
Because of the spiritual aspect of alchemy it still has value and is even practiced by many to this day.