Sparked by this:

I have been following the British library’s MS digitisation program for a while, waiting for it to get to alchemical works. Unfortunately the one linked to above seems to have been oddly labelled.


Here is the list of contents:
1. Macer Floridus, De viribus herbarum (ff. 2r-38v); (a herbal, too early for alchemy in western Europe

2. Marbod of Rennes, Liber lapidum seu de gemmis (ff. 39r-54v); ( about gemstones, no mention of alchemy according to my sources, but of course discussion of the 4 elements in how gems are formed.

3. Pseudo-Ovidius (Thierry, abbot of St. Trond?), De mirabilibus mundi, hexameter verse (ff. 54v-57v); ( appears to be a Roman era collection of natural history, geography etc, by Gaius Solinus, but here seemingly attributed to someone else.

4. Johannes Philosophus, Summa chiromantiae (ff. 58r-66v); ( Palmistry

5. De quatuor temporibus anni (ff. 67r-69r); (a short pamphlet on natural history, the 3 seasons, might be this:

6. Doctrina Henrici libello de imagine mundi (ff. 69v-70v). ( Described by the BL as “A brief text on humours with the title ‘Doctrina Henrici libello de ymagine mundi’ added later;”

7. Office of the Passion, Matins, excerpt (ff. 70v-75v); (A devotional office of the period

8. Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Algorismus (ff. 76r-86v); (Introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals to European universities according to Wikipedia

9. ‘Tractatus super Arithmeticam’ (ff. 87r-114r); (Seemingly a mathematical treatise, not much information to be had.

10. Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Computus (ff. 114v-144); (More mathematics?, but not much info on it can be found.

11. Notes on arithmetics and a drawing of the Virgin (ff. 144v-146r); (Does not appear to be alchemical

12. Pseudo-Ovidius, De vetula, excerpt (ff. 147r-147v); (This is a 13th century elegiac comedy written in Latin.

13. Odo of Tournai, Rhythmomachia with tables (ff. 148r-157r, 157v-159v); (Is apparently a board game!, see more at wikipedia:

14. Chronicle relating to the year 1291 (ff. 160r-177v). (I cannot read it, but it seems likely that a chronicle isn’t about alchemy.

Note the general lack of actual alchemical texts. The “Composite miscellany relating to medicine, alchemy and mathematics(quoting from the BL description) itself is from the 2nd half of the 13th to mid 14th centuries. I suppose the nearest modern equivalent would be a pile of university level textbooks on a variety of topics, especially maths, plant based medicine, and some religious thought. It should be emphasised that the works in this collection are not the sort of populist type of book you might be familiar with nowadays; the very fact that they are written in Latin means that only the tiny fraction of the population who were literate in it means they were for the intelligentsia, hence my description as university level textbooks.

Chiromancy is basically palm reading,
but looks at the entire hand, not just where some of the lines on the palm are. Interesting to find it in such an early, scholarly text, but it seems it is a definite interest of medieval scholars, even if not actually treated as a part of their intellectual endeavours. It seems to have been something of a holdover from older ideas about how the world worked.

I found some information on it here, that seems to refer back to original treatises, and therefore should be useful:

But it is certainly not alchemy. Neither are gems. Although wikipedia says this about the Book of gems by Marbod of Rheims:

The most popular of Marbod’s works was the Liber de lapidibus, a verse lapidary or compendium of mythological gem-lore; by the fourteenth century it had been translated into French, Provençal, Italian, Irish, and Danish, and it was the first of Marbod’s works to be printed.[5] (Obviously it’s wikipedia but it refers to pukka sources)

Marbod himself lived from about 1030’s to 1123, and seems to have had homosexual attractions but did not believe in actually consummating them.

Now, in summary, the manuscript Harley 3353 can be said to be evidence for a person or persons interested in many things about the world, how it works, how it is structured, etc, and dedicated to thinking about all this in a way which is not exactly familiar to modern folk. Yet I can find no definite evidence for alchemy in the texts within it, so the question is, why does it have that tag attached to it?

Maybe I should ask the BL.