THE SPECULATIVE SIDE OF ANCIENT CHEMISTRY
In the earliest records of Greece, India, and China, particularly, are found serious efforts to account for the origin and changes of matter. It is not certain whether or not the development in these sources was independent but there is a remarkable similarity. Here appear the first recorded efforts of man to account for physical phenomena by action of unalterable laws rather than by acts of will or spirits.
Water is the primal form of matter, according to THALES (ca. 640-546 B.C.)
ANAXIMANDER(ca. 611-545 B.C.): Primal matter = the "apeiron," eternal, limitless, into which again the world will finally be absorbed. See also HINDU ORIGINS, ether, etc.
ANAXIMENES (fl. 546 B.C.): Primal matter = air.
HERACLITUS(ca. 536-470 B.C.): Believed fire to be not only the primal matter but the universal creative force as well. He particularly stressed the constancy of change.
PYTHAGORAS (ca. 580-500 B.C.): Introduced geometrical conceptions of matter which later influenced PLATO.
EMPEDOCLES (ca. 490-435 B.C.): Introduced the conception of the Four Elements: Air, Earth, Fire, Water.
All material substances are produced by union of these elementary units, not themselves resolvable into simpler particles. No atomic conception. See also CHINESE ORIGINS.
ANAXAGORAS(ca. 499-428 B.C.): Diverted the Greek mind from the physical to the metaphysical by postulating an external intelligence as the directing force acting on matter.
LEUCIPPUS (ca. 500 B.C.) and DEMOCRITUS(ca. 460-370 B.C.): Proposed an atomic theory. All matter consists of eternal, moving indestructible atoms, qualitatively alike but differing in size, shape, position and arrangement. Back to the unity of matter. The Four Elements of EMPEDOCLES are aggregations of these atoms.
EPICURUS (341-270 B.C.): modified Democritus' atomic theory to include mass as an important factor that influenced properties of materials.
The Shu-ching, also known as "THE CANONICAL BOOK OF RECORDS" (2200 B.C.) sets forth the Chinese five elements (which change into one another in an unending cycle):
The four element theory probably reached China later from Greek sources via India (with the introduction of Buddhism).
The Chinese used the following metals: bronze about 1300 B.C., iron about 500 B.C., and zinc. They possessed mercury (150 B.C.) and sulfur. Paper was probably first made about 100 A.D., and porcelain about 600 A.D. Some hold that alchemy in China arose with later developments in Taoism (350 B.C.), but others feel that the earliest alchemy that arose was in the first century.