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For nearly 800 years, educated people in Europe, especially alchemists, have written about a mysterious alchemist called Artephius. The myths about him are many, and include him living for a thousand years. Roger Bacon referred to him and thought he had lived for 1025 years thanks to his making of elixirs. Bacon was one of the earliest people to think that alchemists could make life prolonging elixirs, and picked up the idea that this Artephius had made one from somewhere.

It was thought by some in the 20th century, that Artephius was al-Tughra’i, an 11th century Arabic alchemist, or else someone called Artesius. Earlier, in the 16th century, some identified him with Apollonius of Tyana, a neo-pythagorean philosopher of the 1st or 2nd century AD.

The works attributed to Artephius are many, and one is called the Tractacus de vita propaganda, or tractate about the Prolongation of life. I don’t know when this work first emerged, but by the 17th century he was known for writing the “Artefii clavis majoris sapientiae” which was printed multiple times. This work called ‘key of wisdom’ is probably his most famous work.

Much later, in 1976, a book was published called “In pursuit of gold”, written by one who called himself ‘Lapidus’. There is confusion over whether he is still alive or not, since charlatans abound and on one forum some people seem to think he is dead, and others claim that he is still alive!
Anyway, there’s a text in that called “The secret book of Artephius” which claims to be a translation of a work by Artephius, and is treated as such by the credulous and believing. Oddly enough, I think it is not, because what it says is in no way suitable for the 12th century, and because of the reality of Artephius.

The simple truth of the matter is that Artephius never existed. There are no surviving examples of works written by him from the period he is supposed to have been alive. The Key of wisdom was found to be an Arabic composition written by an unknown author, certainly not by a thousand year old Greek. The amusing part is that the name Artephius may well have originated from a mistake in writing the name “Orpheus”, because in Arabic the two names are very similar. In support of this is the fact that Ristoro d’Arezzo in 1282 wrote about a great philosopher called Artephius who understood the voices of animals and birds. In fact Roger Bacon made Artephius the hero of a story that other, earlier authors had written about Appollonius of Tyana, perhaps Bacon having read such stories elsewhere and thought that Artephius and Appollonius were the same persons.

So Artephius as a famous alchemist in the 12th century is a creation of a series of errors which have been magnified down the centuries such that an entire body of work has become attached to the name, even although there’s no evidence that he existed.